Blackwood flute bitter taste

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Re: Blackwood flute bitter taste

Post by Sirchronique »

Did you play the Delrin flute right after the Blackwood one sometimes? Maybe clean it well and see if there is any change.
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Tell us something.: I've been playing a blackwood flute for a few years now, and have a question about it that I can't find answered in any existing posts.

Re: Blackwood flute bitter taste

Post by Henricus »

I don't think I've ever played the delrin flute within a few hours (usually about a day) after playing the blackwood one. I always spend 10-15 minutes cleaning the blackwood one immediately after I finish playing it, then move on to do something non-flute-related.

I'm still not sure what's going here at all. I had 10 days away from the blackwood flute, and still had a toned-down version of the bitter taste/numb tongue-tip experience from the delrin one, so had pretty much decided that it was a flute-playing problem, not a blackwood or almond oil problem. But then last night I tried the blackwood one again, and this made it obvious how much more intense the sensation is from that, to the extent that it could be something entirely different between the two instruments (so a difference of kind, rather than of degree). Despite my proclivity to enthusiastically embrace any allergic reaction on offer, the descriptions posted on blackwood sensitivity don't really chime with what's happening in my case - there's no irritation of the chin or lips, or anything in contact with the flute (it all seems to relate to what's coming through the embouchure hole), and I don't experience it consistently (I have gone weeks without it being a problem) and it isn't getting any worse over time. I know this doesn't rule it out as a possibility, but it makes it seem like less of an obvious answer - it would mean I'm having my own unique set of symptoms, which seems unlikely.

So I started sniffing at the embouchure again, trying to divine the molecular components of what was coming up from the bore (still woody and almondy as before), then asked my wife to have a sniff too, with the following result:
Mrs: That smells quite strong. Woody, but sort of nutty too.
Me: Yes, it's got almond oil on it.
Mrs: OK, almonds, but more like gone-off almonds.
Mrs [seeing the look on my face]: Did I say the wrong thing...?

So, pretty much back to square one. To re-iterate, though, there is no discernible trace of oil anywhere to be seen - I wipe off the excess when I oil it, then it gets played and cleaned regularly from the next day onwards (and the last time I oiled it was probably about 3 or 4 weeks ago now). The oil I've used has always been well within its expiry date, and in a dark bottle kept in a cupboard, so it shouldn't have gone off prior to being applied to the flute. I'm also not convinced that it is actually 'off' - it's not really an unpleasant smell, and even the effect I'm getting isn't that bad, it's just that I don't want to be sucking up anything that could do me some damage. My difficulty is that I don't have anything to compare it with, as I don't come into contact with any other blackwood flutes, so I can't be sure that what I'm smelling isn't completely normal (even if the sensation that I'm getting isn't).

I'm getting to the point now where the only thing I can think to do is send it back to the maker to see what he thinks of it.
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Tell us something.: I've been playing a blackwood flute for a few years now, and have a question about it that I can't find answered in any existing posts.

Re: Blackwood flute bitter taste

Post by Henricus »

an seanduine wrote: Sun Jan 22, 2023 11:48 pm I would also look at your use of oil. Oils can act as a vehicle to transfer some otherwise inert wood factors to your mouth and lips. I personally experienced this while turning some cocobolo. I had previouly not had any reaction to the Cocobolo, but when I used some oil as a lubricant while boring out some bores, I experienced a reaction to the wood.
Thinking a bit more about this reply from earlier on, I wonder if something like this could explain why I am getting the effect on my tongue, rather than my lips or chin. A bit of oil goes on the outside of the flute, but this gets wiped off, and doesn't really soak in, whereas the bore gets most of it and it is left there for a few hours. So if the oil was activating some compounds in the blackwood, which then trigger an allergic response, this may explain why it seems to be coming from the bore. If the release of those compounds is also affected by changes in humidity (so when the air is cold and dry, as in winter), maybe this could also explain why the effect seems to come and go.

Whatever the explanation, I'm coming to the conclusion that this ends with me getting a new mopane flute and retiring the blackwood one. Before I do this though, it would be good to have some indication of whether or not the thing with my tongue could possibly be caused by rancid oil (if for no other reason than to push me off the fence in The Great Almond Oil Debate, so I can do the right thing with my new flute). Others have been kind enough to post descriptions of the effects of blackwood sensitivity, which have been most helpful, but I am still no wiser as to whether the oil on its own is even a candidate. I would expect maybe a bitter taste, but the tongue-tingling thing seems much more like an allergic reaction to me. Also, the taste seems to follow the tingling (as if this itself is part of a reaction), rather than the other way round. I suppose I could follow the suggestion of leaving some almond oil to go rancid, and see what it does to my tongue, but I'd rather not have to wait that long.
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Re: Blackwood flute bitter taste

Post by Loren »

As someone who has had significant wood allergies for a few decades now, I’d say what you are describing sounds like an allergic response.

Why the tongue and not the lips and face? The tongue is far more sensitive and will react at a much lower threshold of exposure.

How is the irritant getting to your tongue? If your lips are coming into contact with the flute and you then lick your lips or touch your tongue to them (probably happening subconsciously) there’s your exposure. Alternately, you are getting transfer of the offending compound from your hands onto your lips via touching them, then lip to tongue transfer.

Another possibility could be could be as you describe - blowing into the flute air and potentially aerosolized compounds will be blown back out. I once had a terrible, long lasting lung reaction to something blown back out of a flute that was in for repair. I was left coughing for months afterwards, likely due to a fungal infection from mold in the flute.

Why the (milder) reaction to the Delrin flute? You’ve likely got cross contamination somewhere along the line: Handling the Blackwood flute then then the Delrin flute without washing your hands, storing the Delrin flute in something that once housed a flute of a wood you react to, wiping down or swabbing both flutes with the same rag/swab….. could be a number of ways.

Is it rancid oil causing the skin reaction? Possible, but fairly unlikely as reports of that scenario seem slim to non-existent IME.

My Suggestions: Do as you mention regarding moving permanently from the Blackwood flute to something less likely to cause a reaction. For the Delrin flute, try cleaning it well with isopropyl alcohol inside and out. Use clean paper towels for this, and then store the Delrin flute in a new case/container that has never held any other flutes before. This should prevent cross contamination.

As others have noted, the longer you play the Blackwood flute the worse your reactions may become. As someone who trained as an EMT, I would say that having any tongue reaction at all is potentially a short hop from having a life threatening encounter with anaphylaxis….just not worth the risk. Even if the worst doesn’t happen, I can tell you from experience that the skin reactions can, and likely will get much worse: When I started playing flute I didn’t react at all to Blackwood for a year or two, now my face and lips react badly and I can’t even hold a Blackwood/Rosewood or Cocus flute without my fingers starting to tingle and eventually burn. Lip plates work for some people but they don’t solve any of these problems for me, so YMMV.

Wood allergies are a drag, but the good news is there are at least a couple common alternate woods that people tend not to react to which flute makers commonly stock and use, though each has its drawbacks. Good luck.
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Tell us something.: I've been playing a blackwood flute for a few years now, and have a question about it that I can't find answered in any existing posts.

Re: Blackwood flute bitter taste

Post by Henricus »

Thanks very much for this, Loren. Lots of really useful information there. I didn't think my tongue was picking up anything from licking my lips, as this was something I thought about when it first started happening and so I was on the lookout for it - but as you say, it could still be happening subconsciously without me noticing, and maybe once is enough to trigger the reaction. Also, as I posted earlier, the Delrin and blackwood flutes tend to inhabit different worlds, but thinking about it, there have been times when I've picked up the Delrin one to silently work on some fingering before I turn in for the night, and this may be enough cross-contamination to trigger the very minor reaction I get from that. There've probably been other points of contact between the two that I just don't remember.

The guy that made the blackwood flute also does mopane and boxwood. As I understand it, boxwood would be safe, but I would prefer mopane. Do we know the likelihood of an allergic reaction from mopane?
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Re: Blackwood flute bitter taste

Post by Loren »

Boxwood is definitely about as reaction free as you can get for a wood - people routinely stick boxwood recorder beaks into their mouths for hours at a time with no reactions.

Mopane is claimed safe by many people as well as some online wood information databases, but I have only briefly played a couple of Mopane flutes and I never made any instruments from it (unlike boxwood, Blackwood, and various Rosewoods, where I have made hundreds), so I can’t speak from experience regarding Mopane. That said, I don’t recall ever hearing or reading about anyone reacting to it, so you will in all likelihood not have problems.

If you end up considering any woods other than Boxwood or Mopane in the future, do research first because many woods (not just the rosewood family) can be problematic for those of us who react. I have seen some reportedly safe alternate woods cause problems for people.

If you can fully clean and then isolate the Delrin flute from any areas where cross contamination could occur, the problem shouldn’t reoccur with that flute and you’ll have your answer. If however the problem persists, the problem may lie elsewhere and purchasing a new Mopane flute might be an unnecessary expense.

You know, if there weren’t a marked difference between the reactions from one flute to the other, I’d be somewhat inclined to suspect something other than a reaction to the wood flute or something in it. However it’s hard to imagine anything medical or physical other than interaction with the Blackwood flute and some cross contamination with the Delrin flute that would account for reacting to both, but with differing levels of reaction.

A Delrin/Polymer flute in and of itself should be hypoallergenic, unless it was exposed to something you are allergic to. Theoretically, if a Delrin or other polymer flute was manufactured in a shop where Blackwood/Rosewood/Cocus dust and or other allergens (including chemicals like those used to clean and lubricate machines) are present, cross contamination at the point of origin is possible. Unlikely, but possible. I have a related story, but that will have to wait till I have more time.
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Re: Blackwood flute bitter taste

Post by Henricus »

Thanks again. To be honest, what happens with the Delrin flute is different enough for me to be unsure as to whether it is even a reaction or not. With that one, the sensation on the tongue feels like it could just be fatigue from maintaining a difficult (for me) embouchure. The taste I get from it tends to come and go to some extent during the day anyway, and maybe is just more noticeable with the facial fatigue.

I'm not in any rush to get the mopane flute, and I'll be playing the Delrin one a lot more now, so I should have a clearer view of what's going on over the coming weeks. As you suggest, I'll give it a thorough clean to try and remove any potential allergens, and this will maybe help to (further) isolate the problem as relating to blackwood sensitivity. I may even get more comfortable with the embouchure with the increased practice, in which case I can see if that helps too.
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Re: Blackwood flute bitter taste

Post by Moof »

Given that it can happen with the resin head as well as the blackwood one, I wonder if trigeminal neuralgia might be a possibility? It's usually associated with severe facial pain, but not everyone with trigeminal nerve impingement experiences that.

I only know because a late relative of mine had this type of TN. It took him ages to get diagnosed, as he didn't have pain, just weird effects in his mouth (including, among others, unpleasant tastes and tingling). He had Type 1 diabetes and these symptoms can be associated with extremely low blood sugar, so I remember that being one distraction; another was that he was getting on in age and took two or three different medications. But long story short, his dentist suggested TN, he was eventually diagnosed with it, and he found a medication that helped.

I've never even picked up a side blown flute and have no idea how playing impacts on facial nerves, but it might be worth exploring whether TN is a potential issue.
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Re: Blackwood flute bitter taste

Post by gbyrne »

Loren wrote: Fri Feb 03, 2023 5:56 am Boxwood is definitely about as reaction free as you can get for a wood - people routinely stick boxwood recorder beaks into their mouths for hours at a time with no reactions.
I have pretty acute hardwood allergy. All the Blackwood/Cocus/Ebony/Cocobolo are confirmed no go.

I’ve an Eb keyless with boxwood head/Blackwood body - no problem whatsoever. Even for extended playing.
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Re: Blackwood flute bitter taste

Post by Henricus »

Moof wrote: Fri Feb 03, 2023 4:38 pm Given that it can happen with the resin head as well as the blackwood one, I wonder if trigeminal neuralgia might be a possibility?
Thanks for that. I've had a quick look at what The Internet has to say about it. From what I can gather, it seems a little more random and general than the specific sensation I experience right on the tip of my tongue - I would expect more tingling in other parts of the face and jaw, but still something to bear in mind.

FWIW, I am tending towards seeing this as something going on in me that is emphasised by whatever I do when blowing into a flute. Now that I'm watching out for it, I notice it at other times too, mainly morning and evening. I'm not ruling out the prolonged effects of an allergic reaction (when I have asthma, fortunately rarely these days, it persists for a day or two after the contact with the allergen), but this seems more like a chronic (and mild) condition. My best guess (for today) is something originating in my sinuses, which tend to suffer in the cold, dry winter air, that is then compressed through a tiny hole made by my lips, passing across the tip of my tongue on its way out. I'm not sure why it seems so much worse with the blackwood one though - maybe a different embouchure, or maybe my taste/whatever receptors are conflating it with the woody almonds they're getting from the bore of the flute.
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Re: Blackwood flute bitter taste

Post by Loren »

“When you hear hoof beats, think Horses, not Zebras”. (Unless you live in Zebra country.)

I hate to go all Occam’s razor on you because it’s so overused, but in this case I think the differential diagnosis leans heavily towards the simplest answer being the correct one: a reaction to something chemical associated with the Blackwood flute. Unless someone can come up with a plausible scientific based reason for reacting to the Blackwood flute more strongly than the Delrin flute.

Do you feel you physically use you mouth tongue and lips significantly differently from one flute to the other? If you are massively straining the tongue musculature in some way or impinging a related nerve it’s possible that could cause tingling, numbness and the sensation of altered taste. Maybe check in with what’s going on tension wise with the tongue lips and throat muscles.

Also, as I may have mentioned previously: when you blow into a flute you get blowback out of the embouchure hole that will shoot up into your sinuses, consequently traveling back into your mouth, so any allergens in the flute have that route of entry as well as from the mouth and lips.
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Re: Blackwood flute bitter taste

Post by Henricus »

After my first play on the blackwood flute for a week, I'm now convinced that the problem (or at least the significant problem, if there are any others out there) is indeed with the blackwood flute itself, and not some background noise from a condition that is there all the time. I'm still struggling to get my head round this as a blackwood allergy though. For one thing, it does seem to be almost entirely airborne. I've taken my life in my hands and licked the flute, with no ill effect, but if I sniff at the bore (with my mouth closed) I then get the taste on my tongue. The other strange thing was that while I was playing I noticed the effect quite quickly, but it didn't get any worse over the course of a half-hour session, and even began to improve as I went on (maybe this means I was blowing less hard, or disturbing less of whatever it was for some other reason, or maybe it was my imagination).

In the end though, I guess it is far more likely that I am experiencing a known phenomenon in a weird way, rather than something entirely new to science (or at least to the collective experience of the contributors to this forum). So, yes, it's about time I called it a day on this, and moved on to a new flute. Onwards and upwards. And thanks for all your help - much appreciated.
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