If you develop an itchy rash after using a hot tub, chances are you may have hot tub folliculitis. The condition occurs when hair follicles are infected with bacteria that live in warm, wet areas. Hot tub folliculitis may be uncomfortable, but it is not usually a serious medical problem.
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The bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa causes hot tub folliculitis. The microscopic bacteria commonly grows in soil and water. Pseudomonas aeruginosa is found in hot tubs and spas when the chlorine and water acid levels are not maintained at appropriate levels to kill the bacteria, which can also be found in pools and lakes.
A hot tub rash develops after your skin has been in direct contact with water contaminated by the bacteria. The rash may be worse in areas covered by your bathing suit, as the tight fabric of the bathing suit helps keep the bacteria against your skin.
Symptoms of hot tub folliculitis appear within eight hours to five days after exposure to the bacteria. Red, itchy bumps are the first sign of the rash. The affected skin may feel tender when you touch it. Over time, the bumps may become pus-filled.
Hot tub folliculitis usually clears on its own, however over-the-counter anti-itch cream or ointment can help relieve troublesome itching. Stubborn or serious cases of the condition may require treatment with oral antibiotics.
Applying warm compresses to the rash can temporarily relieve discomfort and itching. Oatmeal baths or lotions may also be used to relieve itching.
Monitoring chlorine and pH levels in your hot tub and adding chemicals when needed can help prevent Pseudomonas aeruginosa from growing in your hot tub. Because the warmer water found in hot tubs causes chlorine to break down quickly, hot tubs require more frequent testing than pools to ensure that chemical levels are adequate. Pay special attention to monitoring chemicals if you have a wooden hot tub, as the bacteria grows especially well in wood. Taking a soapy shower after using a hot tub and removing your bathing suit soon after you exit the hot tub can help reduce your chance of developing folliculitis. Swimsuits should be washed after wearing to remove any lingering bacteria.