Hot Tub Illnesses

It can be relaxing and therapeutic to soak in a hot tub, but users should be aware of hot tub dangers. Recreational water illnesses (RWIs) spread easily in hot tubs, and an entire family can become sick at the same time. Chlorine and disinfectants fight these diseases, but they take hours or even days to kill new infections. Users should adopt good hygiene practices, and very young children shouldn't use hot tubs at all.

Hot tubs are enjoyable, but can also harbor many diseases. (Image: Michael Turek/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Diarrheal Illnesses

The most common types of RWIs are those with symptoms of diarrhea. These illnesses are easily spread into the water from residual fecal matter on an infected person. Anyone swallowing the water can contract the disease. The waterborne germs can also get on a person's hands and ingested through food that has been touched by that person. Some of these recreational water illnesses, such as Cryptosporidium, can survive for days, even in properly chlorinated water.


Other hot tub dangers include skin disorders such as hot tub rash, a condition caused by the germ Pseudomonas aeruginosa. The germ is common in the environment, but becomes a greater problem in hot tubs because the water allows it to stay in contact with a person's skin for a long time, increasing the chances of infection. Some people are sensitive to the chlorine and disinfectants used to fight germs in hot tub water, so these chemicals can be another source of rashes.

Respiratory Problems

Bacteria can be inhaled by hot tub users, especially if the hot tub is heavily used and not properly maintained, a situation sometimes seen in community facilities. These bacteria can cause a respiratory reaction commonly known as "hot tub lung." Some sufferers, not realizing their respiratory problems were caused by the hot tub, get back in the tub thinking the warm, moist air will help and end up making the infection worse.


In rare situations, hot water can trigger a seizure. Reflex epilepsy is characterized by seizures caused by external stimuli such as sounds, lights, smells and sudden change in temperature. Hot-water epilepsy affects children, particularly in cultures where hot water is poured over the head during bathing. However, it has also been caused by soaking in a hot bath. Talk to your doctor before you use a hot tub if you are prone to seizures.


If you own a hot tub, check the water for proper disinfectant and pH levels before use. When using a public hot tub, ask if these levels are checked at least twice per day. Shower with soap both before and after using a hot tub, and never use one if you have diarrhea. Avoid getting the water in your mouth, ears or eyes.

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