HEALTH HAZARD Beware of ‘hot tub lung’ – the ‘invisible killer’ lurking in warm water that leaves sufferers gasping for breath

There’s nothing more relaxing than lounging in a warm, bubbling hot tub. But soaking in the water could put you at risk of a ‘silent killer’ lung condition that leaves sufferers spluttering and gasping for breath.

Known as ‘hot tub lung’, the respiratory condition is triggered by bacteria lurking in the tub, with the comfortingly warm liquid creating the “perfect environment” for germs to thrive in.

These microbes – called mycobacteria – are from the same family of bacteria that trigger the infectious lung disease tuberculosis, according to Dan Baumgardt, senior lecturer at the University of Bristol’s School of Physiology, Pharmacology and Neuroscience.

Writing for The Conversation, he warned: “Despite the potential wellbeing benefits of heat and hydrotherapy, enjoying a relaxing dip in the hotel hot tub could do more harm than good.”

As with cases of the sometimes deadly Victorian illness, bacteria behind hot tub lung can cause patches of inflammation in the lung tissue.

“This results in symptoms such as shortness of breath, cough and fever,” Dr Baumgardt said.

These symptoms can show up after you’re exposed to contaminated water.

“The lung changes can be seen on an X-ray or CT scan of the chest, and may appear quite profound,” he added.

Hot tubs can put you at risk of the respiratory illness for two key reasons, the expert shared.

“The hot tub acts as a perfect environment for the growth of these bacteria because the warmth of the system creates an optimum temperature for their proliferation,” he said.

“The bubbling of the water also acts as an aerosol – allowing the bacteria to be released into the air, where they can be inhaled.”

Though it’s common to find mycobacteria in soil and water, it can only cause hot tub lung when it’s at high levels in specific environments.

According to the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation, you can also contract hot tub lung from swimming pools, spas, saunas, showers and humidifiers. The illness is a specific form of hypersensitivity pneumonitis caused by swelling in the lungs in reaction to bacteria-laced liquid or solid droplets in the air. You’re most likely to get hot tub lung if you’re a frequent hot tub user, Dr Baumgardt noted.

You’re also at risk if you have a compromised immune system. Unlike with TB, hot tub lung doesn’t need to be treated with long-term antibiotics. Instead, stopping your exposure to the bacteria is key. You might also be treated with corticosteroid medications. The lung condition isn’t the only health danger lurking in hot tubs, Dr Baumgardt warned.

Legionella bacteria behind the potentially severe lung condition Legionnaire’s disease can flourish in the warm water.

Mum nearly lost leg

You might also fall victim to nasty skin infections such as hot tub folliculitis. This is an infection of the hair follicles caused by the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa. In a particularly severe case, a mum-of-two nearly lost her leg from the rotting “hot tub rash” she picked up during a holiday with her family in Tennessee. But it’s not all bad when it comes to hot tubs, as scientists have suggested that a 30-minute soak can yield the same health benefits as a jog.

Hot tub health hazards

LEGIONNAIRE’s disease is a lung infection you can get from inhaling droplets of water from things like air conditioning or hot tubs.
Tiny droplets of water that are contaminated with bacteria can cause the disease if you inhale them. It’s usually caught in places like hotels, hospitals or offices where the bacteria have got into the water supply. You can get Legionnaires’ disease from things like:

  • Air conditioning systems
  • Humidifiers
  • Spa pools and hot tubs
  • Taps and showers that are not used often

Legionella bacteria can sit in showers and taps that haven’t been used for a while, which is why some experts urge holidaymakers to run taps and showers before using them. Symptoms of Legionnaire’s disease include:

  1. A cough
  2. Shortness of breath
  3. Chest pain or discomfort, particularly when breathing or coughing
  4. A high temperature
  5. Flu-like symptoms

The NHS advises that you get an urgent GP appointment or call NHS 111 if you’ve had a cough for three weeks or more, feel short of breath, have chest pain that comes and goes or are coughing up blood. You may need to be treated in hospital if you’re diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease.

  • Original Article: The Sun
  • Date: March 2024