Had you ever considered that your hot tub could make you sick? Maybe you have read about the number of illnesses that it’s potentially possible to pick up from a hot tub or you know of someone who became unwell after using a hot tub. As with many things, there is a lot of sensational reporting of such issues and it can sometimes become difficult to separate the fact from the fiction.
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So, can a hot tub make you sick? If the hot tub is well maintained the chances of it making you sick are remote. In poorly maintained hot tubs there is a chance of catching legionnaire’s disease and also other germs can thrive. It’s also possible to get a hot tub rash either due to anallergic reaction to the chemicals in the water or due to bacteria in the water.
So, what are the most common illnesses that you can get from using a hot tub and what causes them?
Legionnaires disease seems to have had a lot of coverage in the press recently and is quite a well-known disease. In fact, in 2016 6100, people are hospitalized in the United States with it. It can be very unpleasant, and has symptoms including severe pneumonia type problems as well as secondary symptoms that are similar to a really bad dose of flu.
Legionnaire’s disease is treatable with antibiotics and is not usually a very serious problem in healthy people. However, people with respiratory problems, heavy smokers, the elderly and people with a reduced immune system are at risk of becoming seriously ill if they contract it. Around 10% of people who contract the disease will die from it.
So, how does Legionnaire’s Disease get into a hot tub?
Basically, Legionella is a waterborne bacteria that’s present in all water. If a hot tub isn’t disinfected properly the bacteria can be inhaled from the steam and mist coming from the infected water. It’s particularly problematic in hot tubs because of the relatively high temperature of the water but doesn’t pose a risk if the proper water hygiene recommendations are adhered to.
The message is to keep on top of your water chemistry and sanitization. Check the water regularly and, if in any doubt drain the hot tub and start again with clean fresh water.
Hot tub lung
Hot tub lung thankfully is very rare. Apparently, only about 70 cases have ever been recorded but if you are unlucky enough to get it the symptoms can be quite unpleasant. In a similar way to Legionnaires disease above, if you contract hot tub lung you will get flu-like symptoms including cough, trouble breathing, a high fever and probably feel extremely tired as well.
Hot tub lung is caused by another type of bacteria which thrives in hot damp atmospheres. The bacteria is called Mycobacterium Avium complex. Luckily this is commonly abbreviated to MAC! MAC has a very special skill which is that it adheres to surfaces rather than being washed away as many other art bacteria are. Apparently, this means that the MAC bacteria can latch itself onto air bubbles and can be breathed in that way.
If you do breathe it in the bacteria can cause small patches of inflammation in the lungs which causes the problems. It seems that it’s most likely that you will catch hot tub lung if you frequently use a hot tub in a poorly ventilated area. There’s a greater risk of getting it if you are using an indoor hot tub for example. Generally speaking, the condition clears up quite easily in fit and healthy people if you stop using the hot tub or at least stop using the hot tub inside. More serious cases might need treatment with antibiotics or corticosteroids.
Hot tub skin rashes
Getting a skin rash after frequent use of your hot tub is actually quite a common occurrence. A number of people have what they would call sensitive skin and the atmosphere of the hot tub can frequently cause increased irritation for a number of reasons. Whilst most people will just assume that there is only one type of hot tub skin rash there are in fact three different strains.
Rashes caused by chemicals – this one sounds more worrying than it actually is. Essentially this is an irritation to the skin caused by the chemicals in the hot tub. When you’re in the hot tub the hot water can deplete your skin of his natural moisture and defense mechanisms. The sanitizers in the water, chlorine or bromine, also make this skin dryness worse and this can lead to irritating itchy spots redness and bumps. In many ways you can’t prevent your skin drying out in a hot tub but if you moisturize after getting out you will probably find that the symptoms improve.
It’s also possible of course that you could be allergic to one of the chemicals in the water in your hot tub. One particular chemical called Potassium Peroxymonosulfate has been found to be particularly linked with allergic reactions. It’s used to eliminate organic contamination so you might find it in shock treatments for example. If you are having what do you think is an allergic reaction to your hot tub then check to see if this chemical is used in any of the water treatment products you are using.
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Folliculitis skin rash – Folliculitis is a little bit more serious than getting a chemical rash. The symptoms can be more irritating and painful and a little longer to both develop and retreat. Folliculitis is a bacterial condition caused by the bacteria that spreads in under-sanitized hot tubs. Basically the bacteria attacks any area of the skin where there is already a break or damage. Hair follicles, cuts, abrasions and scratches are particularly at risk and the rash can cause lumps and bumps and even blisters. The symptoms of this happen anywhere from a few hours to a few days after using the hot tub and the rashes most commonly appear on the back and stomach and on the limbs. Once the rash has started is possible for it to actually spread further as well
Hot hand/foot syndrome – This rather unpleasant sounding condition is caused by the same bacteria as above. It can cause fevers and also skin rashes and blisters on the hands and feet. In more extreme conditions this can lead to extreme pain when walking.
The key to not getting any form of hot tub skin rash is to make sure, as usual, that the hot tub is properly sanitized so that the bacteria can’t develop in the first place. It’s also a really good idea to shower as soon as you get out of the hot tub and to wash swimwear as well. Most minor hot tub rashes will clear up on their own in a few days but, if you suspect that you have more serious symptoms then you should seek medical attention.