If you don’t carry out regular hot tub maintenance, you could be risking lung disease, heart issues, and skin infections.
You might think spending time in a hot tub is all fun and games but there are serious risks involved. Learning about them and how to prevent them will guarantee an enjoyable soak for everyone.
1. Legionnaires Disease
Legionnaires disease is a severe type of pneumonia (lung infection or inflammation) caused by a bacteria called legionella.
Legionella is usually found in freshwater environments, but it becomes a threat when it starts multiplying in human-made water systems like spas, fountains, air conditioning and plumbing systems that are not properly disinfected. The bacteria grows best in warm waters, like those found in hot tubs, making them ideal breeding grounds.
People contract Legionnaires disease by inhaling water droplets that contain legionella. Symptoms include cough, fever, shortness of breath and chest pain. If not treated promptly and correctly, the disease can be fatal. The legionella bacteria also causes a milder illness called Pontiac fever; symptoms include chills, muscle aches and fever. This doesn’t affect your lungs and usually clears on its own.
Certain groups of people including smokers, people aged 50 and older, people with lung disease or compromised immunities are more susceptible to Legionnaires disease and must be extremely cautious when using a hot tub.
The best way to prevent the spread of Legionnaires disease is good hot tub maintenance and continuously monitor water levels, ensuring disinfectants and chemicals in your hot tub are at a pH level that keeps bacteria at bay. Buy test strips and check the free chlorine level (should between 3-10 parts per million), the bromine level (should be between 4-8 parts per million) and the pH level (should be between 7.2-7.8).
2. Overheating and dehydration
Like all good things, too much hot tub isn’t a good idea. Spending too long in hot waters can cause the body to overheat and lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke. It is vital to stay hydrated while in a spa and avoid consuming too much alcohol, as the combination of heat and intoxicants can be harmful. Alcohol dehydrates you, so you get drunker quicker, and it makes the hangover twice as bad. This also creates a drowning risk.
Long soaks in hot tubs also put excess pressure on the heart. This is particularly relevant for people with heart conditions or those suspected of having cardiovascular issues.
Usually, when the body overheats, you sweat and that helps your body cool down. But when you’re immersed in a hot tub, your temperature rises, and that regulating mechanism doesn’t work. The blood vessels dilate in an attempt to help cool the body, blood moves away from the body core to the skin and the heart rate and pulse increase to balance a drop in blood pressure. Under normal circumstances, these processes wouldn’t be a problem, but they can be if you have existing heart problems.
Symptoms include dizziness, feeling faint, nausea, abnormal heart rhythms and sometimes, heart attack. The best way for heart patients to enjoy hot tubs is in brief spells. Also, ensure the water temperature is not too high and always stay hydrated.
3. Pregnancy risks
Pregnant women should be careful when spending time in hot tubs. Expecting mothers are also at risk of overheating which could harm the developing foetus, especially in the early stages. Hormonal changes and increased blood supply already make pregnant women feel warmer than usual, and a hot tub soak could exacerbate that.
If you’re spending time in a hydrotherapy pool or doing water-based exercises, such as at an antenatal class, ensure the water temperature is between 32°C and 35°C. If you choose to use a hot tub, it is recommended that the temperature be lower than 38°C. Additionally, don’t spend more than ten minutes in the water, avoid submerging your upper chest, shoulder and arms and get out of the tub the minute you feel even the slightest bit of discomfort.
4. Hot tub rash
Hot tub rash is a type of skin infection caused by the germ Pseudomonas aeruginosa that prefers warm water. The rash occurs when the skin comes into contact with infected waters. It manifests as a bumpy red rash with pus-filled blisters often found around hair follicles. In many cases, the rash occurs under your swimwear as the cloth keeps the water in close contact with the skin. The rash usually clears up in a few days without medication, though you should consult a doctor if it persists.
You can avoid hot tub rash by regularly performing hot tub maintenance, cleaning your spa, checking pH levels to ensure a healthy environment, washing your swimwear and showering with soap after a soak.
5. Physical hazards
Suction from outlet openings are a serious hazard when using hot tubs as they could trap you underwater. Don’t submerge your head underwater to avoid hair or jewellery get caught in the outlets. Furthermore, always cover the outlets with screens and be aware of the power switch location in case the hot tub needs to be turned off quickly.
Slipping is another hazard to consider. Given the amount of water involved, the sides and surrounding areas of a hot tub can get slippery. Use slip-proof flooring around the tub and install handrails for extra support when entering and getting out of the tub.
Also, never dive into a hot tub, always enter feet first to find your footing and get comfortable.
6. Germ-related illnesses
Legionnaires disease is probably the most well-known hot tub-related illness, but there are several other bacteria and parasites that can have adverse effects.
For instance, parasites such as cryptosporidium and giardia can cause diarrhoea, fever, vomiting, stomach and abdominal cramps. Most people can recover without medicines, though some might need medical attention.
Another type of lung infection, known as “hot tub lung,” has been linked to a germ called Nontuberculous mycobacteria. This bacteria also spreads through droplets and mist and if not treated, can have serious effects on your health.
Now that you know how harmful a hot tub can be, here are some tips to ensure you have a safe and fun soak:
- Regularly monitor the water’s pH levels and disinfectant levels
- Scrub surfaces to remove slime layers
- Drain and replace water as recommended by the manufacturer
- Do not let the water temperature exceed 40°C
- Cover the hot tub when not in use to minimize exposure to the elements
Above all, follow the manufacturers instructions to maintain healthy, germ-free environments. If you’re unsure or wish to get your tub serviced, contact us at Sutton Spas. We offer a range of hot tub maintenance packages, and you can purchase spa pool chemicals if you wish to DIY.