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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Contact dermatitis and other skin conditions in instrumental musicians

Thilo Gambichler1*, Stefanie Boms2 and Marcus Freitag2

Author affiliations

1 Dermatology Out-Patient Clinic, Oldchurch Hospital, Waterloo Road Romford, RM7 OBE, London, United Kingdom

2 Department of Dermatology and Allergology, Ruhr-University Bochum Gudrunstr. 56, D-44791 Bochum, Germany

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Citation and License

BMC Dermatology 2004, 4:3  doi:10.1186/1471-5945-4-3

Published: 16 April 2004

Abstract

Background

The skin is important in the positioning and playing of a musical instrument. During practicing and performing there is a permanent more or less intense contact between the instrument and the musician's skin. Apart from aggravation of predisposed skin diseases (e.g., atopic eczema or psoriasis) due to music-making, specific dermatologic conditions may develop that are directly caused by playing a musical instrument.

Methods

To perform a systematic review on instrument-related skin diseases in musicians we searched the PubMed database without time limits. Furthermore we studied the online bibliography "Occupational diseases of performing artist. A performing arts medicine bibliography. October, 2003" and checked references of all selected articles for relevant papers.

Results

The most prevalent skin disorders of instrumental musicians, in particular string instrumentalists (e.g., violinists, cellists, guitarists), woodwind players (e.g., flautists, clarinetists), and brass instrumentalists (e.g., trumpeters), include a variety of allergic contact sensitizations (e.g., colophony, nickel, and exotic woods) and irritant (physical-chemical noxae) skin conditions whose clinical presentation and localization are usually specific for the instrument used (e.g., "fiddler's neck", "cellist's chest", "guitar nipple", "flautist's chin"). Apart from common callosities and "occupational marks" (e.g., "Garrod's pads") more or less severe skin injuries may occur in musical instrumentalists, in particular acute and chronic wounds including their complications. Skin infections such as herpes labialis seem to be a more common skin problem in woodwind and brass instrumentalists.

Conclusions

Skin conditions may be a significant problem not only in professional instrumentalists, but also in musicians of all ages and ability. Although not life threatening they may lead to impaired performance and occupational hazard. Unfortunately, epidemiological investigations have exclusively been performed on orchestra musicians, though the prevalence of instrument-related skin conditions in other musician groups (e.g., jazz and rock musicians) is also of interest. The practicing clinician should be aware of the special dermatologic problems unique to the musical instrumentalist. Moreover awareness among musicians needs to be raised, as proper technique and conditioning may help to prevent affection of performance and occupational impairment.