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 Can old reeds make you sick?
Author: LaurieBell 
Date:   2019-03-08 16:43

Can playing on old reeds make you sick?

Just for the heck of it, I opened a box of (Vandoren) reeds from my stash that’s around 40 years old. None showed any visible signs of decay or mold. The first reed I selected played beautifully. The next day I selected another read that tasted like it was new. It played beautifully too; however, 40 minutes into my practice session, my throat suddenly closed up and I had that awful feeling just before you get a whopper of a cold.

My throat was painful for the next two days but I had no other symptoms until day 3, when I developed congestion, a headache and a high fever. After over-the-counter meds, my fever was gone and I felt somewhat better on day 4. By day 5, it seemed I was on the downside of a cold.

What was nagging in the back of my mind was the question, “Did my old reed make me sick?

I Google that question and found a YouTube where a fellow did an experiment to test the cleanliness of reeds. (See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TyEnX2Afga0)

He used a Luminometers to measure ATP levels which assess the cleanliness of surfaces. High number means there is a lot of contamination on the surface, low numbers mean this is little contamination.

As a baseline, he said raw meat cannot be sold if it measures more than 2,000 RLU.
- He tested a new reed and it read 4 RLU (basically clean)
- He tested a reed he used every day and it read 104 RLU.
- He tested a reed with visible mold and it read 4,024 RLU.
- Then he cleaned the reeds by soaking them in Hydrogen Peroxide and the readings dropped to 64 RLU.
- He also tested his mouthpiece and it was 8,052 RLU, which dropped to 116 RLU after swabbing with a Q-tip soaked in Hydrogen Peroxide.

His conclusion was that likely the high RLU wouldn’t make you sick, since he had been playing on his (unclean) mouthpiece without any problem.

I’ve never had any problems with my reeds making me sick, even when I’ve had to play on them when I had cold sores (although I soaked them in mouthwash between playing).

My sudden sore throat was most likely coincidental, but it made me wonder enough to ask if anyone else has ever experienced a similar problem.

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 Re: Can old reeds make you sick?
Author: Steven Ocone 
Date:   2019-03-08 17:19

I've used old reeds. Maybe you got sick from the reed or maybe it was a coincidence. Some people have extreme reactions to mold. I've soaked reeds in mouthwash before (Listerine or similar), but that might not get rid of mold toxins.

Steven Ocone

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 Re: Can old reeds make you sick?
Author: RKing 
Date:   2019-03-08 18:13

What this tells me is that I should clean my mouthpiece more often.

I have never become ill from old reeds, but I have found that they lose a bit of elasticity and they do not work well for me.



Post Edited (2019-03-08 18:14)

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 Re: Can old reeds make you sick?
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2019-03-08 21:23

It's always hard to know where you actually contacted the bug that made you sick. You're exposed to viruses and bacteria all the time and most of them are either not harmful or are overcome by your immune system before they cause symptoms. I guess if you got sick three or four times, each the same time interval after having played on one of those old-timers, you could make the case that the box is infected with something. But in the end, you'd never know if you had gotten sick after playing on reeds from a just-bought box or if the germs came from someone you had dinner with or from something you handled.

I've never knowingly been sickened by the older reeds that I kept from the '70s and '80s. I don't know why it would be any more likely than getting sick from something in a reed bought in the last 10 years or even 10 months. I would guess that a pathogen eating away at the reed over any extended length of time (certainly 40 years) would cause some kind of visible destruction of the reed - broken down fibers, gray, green or yellow stains, etc..


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 Re: Can old reeds make you sick?
Author: shmuelyosef 
Date:   2019-03-11 02:07

I know a sax player that stores all his reeds in a diver's bag (triple-zip-lock) filled with Listerine...he swears that they last forever. I have never worried much about reeds, but if you really want to play a questionable older reed, washing it with dish detergent and water is probably sufficient...rinse it well.

I have lots of boxes of reeds <10 years old and occasionally grab one to test a mouthpiece if it needs a strength that I don't have currently. Have never gotten sick from it, even if they taste old and dusty, but I'm generally a 'germophile' and don't worry much.

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 Re: Can old reeds make you sick?
Author: Chris P 
Date:   2019-03-11 02:46

Unless they're mouldy or mildewy and have been kept well, they shouldn't make you ill.

Although you wouldn't exactly go out your way to use a reed that's mouldy, would you?


Reply To Message
 Re: Can old reeds make you sick?
Author: Philip Caron 
Date:   2019-03-11 06:03

Hi LaurieBell. Another poster here has spoken in the past about insecticides that get absorbed into reed cane, saying it was a real problem in some major brands. He worked for one of those brands I think the reference included reeds from the period you speak of.

I don't know if he's right, or if he is, I don't know what the concentration of chemicals in a reed might be 40 years after manufacture - it may have gone down or stayed the same or undergone a chemical change. Further, individuals exposed, or even the same individuals 40 years apart, likely vary in their sensitivity to the chemicals.

If you continue to get symptoms when playing the reeds, hmm. Maybe just get rid of them.

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