QotW: Do bagpipes help you recover after COVID?

Could playing the bagpipes help your lungs recover after you've had COVID?...
05 July 2021

LUNGS-CARTOON

An image showing the arteries and veins in the lungs.

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Question

Paul asked "If one is recovering or has recovered from COVID, would playing bagpipes help to expand the lungs and be beneficial or detrimental?"

Answer

Adam Murphy spoke to John Dickinson from the University of Kent and Michael Steiner from the University of Leicester to find out the answer...

Paul - If one is recovering or has recovered from COVID, would playing bagpipes help to expand the lungs and be beneficial or detrimental?

Adam - Bagpipes are something of a love it or hate it instrument. I love them. Although I do prefer a set of Irish Uilleann Pipes more...but you don’t use your lungs with them so we’ll move on. Can the bagpipes help you if COVID’s taken away your puff? John Dickinson is head of the exercise respiratory clinic at the University of Kent, and he says it probably won’t hurt.

John - We know it’s impossible to actually increase the size of your lungs playing wind instruments – even elite athletes don’t get larger lungs from participating in elite sport! However, playing wind instruments can be beneficial for controlling breathing pattern. Many people post COVID are reporting symptoms of breathlessness on exertion and a lot of this may be due to development of a dysfunctional breathing pattern during the time they had and were recovering from COVID. Playing wind instruments encourages an efficient breathing pattern. This may help an individual post COVID adopt a better breathing pattern and reduce symptoms of breathlessness.

Adam - So potentially very helpful, so why aren’t there sets of bagpipes filling every hospital in the world! Well here’s Michael Steiner, Consultant Respiratory Physician at the University of Leicester, who agrees that it probably wouldn’t hurt, and might even help, but...

Michael- This is speculation of course because there haven’t been any trials of bagpipe playing following COVID-19 infection and indeed little evidence on the benefits of playing wind instruments in lung diseases more broadly. There are some trials suggesting that singing might be a useful therapy in reducing breathing problems and improving quality of life for lung disease sufferers.

Adam - and Michael also points out with the bagpipes, there’s one other potential risk to be considered!

Michael - I don’t think playing a musical instrument like the Bagpipes is likely to be harmful although there was a report a few years ago of a patient who became seriously ill with lung inflammation which was linked to regular playing of bagpipes and was termed “Bagpipe Lung”. However, this was thought to be due to a fungus living in the pipes rather than the act of playing itself. On a broader note, listening to and playing music can have a positive effect on mental and physical health and well being for all of us including during recovery from illness. If playing the bagpipes provides pleasure and enjoyment, I would go for it - but make sure you keep your pipes clean!

Adam - But as Colin2B points out on the forum, it might be kinder to your neighbours to do the recommended breathing exercises your doctor gives you than pick up the bagpipes for the first time! Thanks for the question Paul, and that to John and Michael for the answer! Next week, we’ve a mountain to climb, answering Wayne’s question

Wayne - We’ve always learned heat rises, but it’s normally cooler in the mountains. Shouldn’t their higher elevation make it warmer there?

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