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Hot tub lung, also known as hypersensitivity pneumonitis, is a lung condition that is caused by the inhalation of myobacterium avium complex. There is no cure for this condition, and treatment options are limited. Treatment for hot tub lung includes removing the cause, medication, and oxygen therapy. Doctors often prescribe lung rehabilitation, and in extreme cases, a lung transplant may be necessary.
The bacteria is present in the water of the hot tub and becomes areosolized in the mist coming off the water. People subsequently inhale bacteria into the lungs, where it is attacked by the immune system. This immune response results in inflammation of the lungs. With each exposure to the bacteria, the immune system becomes more sensitized, producing a more severe allergic response. Over time, the condition becomes chronic, resulting in an irreversible scarring of the lungs.
The first method of treatment is to remove the source of the bacteria. In hot tub lung, this means removal of the hot tub. Even if the affected person no longer uses the hot tub, the bacteria is still be present in the air and available for inhalation. In severe cases, individuals have had to leave their homes.
Medication is also given to patients with hot tub lung. Often, these include corticosteriods like prednisone. These drugs work by suppressing the immune system and thus the response to the bacteria. Steroids, however, only relieve the symptoms of the illness and do not actually rid the body of the disease. This type of medication also produces a number of damaging side effects and, as a result, cannot be taken over the long term.
Antibiotics are also often prescribed as hot tub lung is initially considered to be a bacterial infection. Their use is controversial, however, because they do not actually treat the damage caused by the disease or the immune response. They also increase the possibility of the strain of bacteria becoming resistant to the antibiotics, resulting in a superbug strain that would cause even more significant damage.
Some patients, due to the damage to their lungs, receive oxygen treatments in the form of masks or nasal tubes. This treatment helps to alleviate breathing difficulties due to the damage to the lungs. Patients should also stop smoking because it has been found to make the illness worse. Rehabilitation of the lungs through exercises helps to build up the strength of patients' lungs and lessen the impact of the disease. Finally, in some cases, the damage is so severe that the only treatment option is a lung transplant.