ITS potent skirl is a symbol of Scotland across the world and can evoke the sound of a Highland breeze or rouse a regiment into battle.

But new research claims playing the bagpipes could put the player's life at risk, by breathing in mould spores from inside the instrument.

The wind instrument can harbour a host of fungi and mould inside its moist interiors that can cause "bagpipe lung".

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Blowing in warm moist air creates the ideal breeding ground for the mould and the spores are then inhaled back by the player.

The warning came after a bagpipe player died of the chronic inflammatory lung condition hypersensitivity pneumonitis.

Members of the piping community in Scotland said the case was extremely rare and that pipers should have a basic knowledge of hygiene related to wind instruments.

Bagpipe, trombone and saxophone players are among those who can be affected, according to the study in the BMJ's Thorax journal.

The findings by researchers from the University Hospital of South Manchester came after a 61-year-old man was referred to a specialist lung clinic in 2014 after seven years of a dry cough and progressive breathlessness, despite treatment with immunosuppressant drugs.

His condition had worsened to the point that he could not walk more than 20 metres, and was finding it hard to breathe, prompting admission to hospital.

He had been diagnosed with hypersensitivity pneumonitis in 2009.

It was found he played the bagpipes daily and when he did not take them with him on a three month trip to Australia and his symptoms rapidly improved.

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Scientists took samples from inside the bagpipes, including the bag, the neck, and the chanter reed protector.

Despite treatment he died and a post mortem found extensive lung damage consistent with acute respiratory distress syndrome and tissue fibrosis (scarring).

Robert Wallace, Editor of Pipe Band Magazine, official publication of the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association, said on the organisation's behalf: "This is an extremely rare case.

"In 50 years of playing the pipes I have never heard of this happening before.

"All pipers know that they must change their bag frequently and/or regularly wash it and the blow stick out with warm water and disinfectant.

"With this simple precaution the world's greatest instrument remains no more dangerous than any other."

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Dr Jenny King, of University Hospital of South Manchester, said: "This is the first case report identifying fungal exposure, from a bagpipe player, as a potential trigger for the development of hypersensitivity pneumonitis.

"The clinical history of daily bagpipe playing, coupled with marked symptomatic improvement when this exposure was removed, and the identification of multiple potential precipitating antigens isolated from the bagpipes, make this the likely cause.

"There have been previous case reports of HP in saxophone and trombone players attributable to isolated fungi and Candida."

Dr King said: "Cleaning instruments immediately after use and allowing them to drip dry could theoretically curb the risk of microbe growt.

She added: "There have been isolated case reports of musicians developing hypersensitivity pneumonitis.

"Clinicians need to be aware of this potential trigger for developing hypersensitivity pneumonitis, and wind instrument players need to be aware of the importance of regularly cleaning their instruments to minimise this risk."

The researchers from the University Hospital of South Manchester said the condition happens when lungs have an allergic reaction to something the person has inhaled.

Examples include farmer's lung, caused by breathing mould that grows on hay, straw and grain and bird fancier's lung, connected to breathing in particles from feathers or bird droppings.