In my previous article on homeostasis here at Associated Content, I made an analogy between homeostasis and “switch.” In this article, I will discuss one situation when people choose to ignore that switch and therefore break the homeostasis.
After a long day of work filled with complaints from rude customers and hours of repeating same task over and over again, you finally come to home to relax in a hot tub filled with water. There’s nothing better than this time of the day when you feel the tensed muscles relax, allowing you to maybe even doze off for a minute or two. One website that promotes the usage of hot tubs explains, “Hot tub hydrotherapy on a regular basis provides physical health benefits that go much deeper than just relaxation and pleasure.”1 This website furthermore states that hot tubs can relieve arthritis, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and other diseases.
As a result, many people who use hot tubs once or twice decide to use them again, and this continued usage progresses. Because hot tubs use water, which is clearly not a substance harmful to us (we drink H2O every day, remember?), it may be hard to believe that it is possible to break the homeostasis of body through continued uses of hot tubs. It’s not like people are drinking excessive soda or smoking too much of cigarettes – just bathing in water.
“Far more common [cases of lung disorder known as hypersensitivity pneumonitis] are infections caused by contaminated hot tubs and whirlpool spas,” explained an article from The New York Times, “The heat encourages bacterial growth, and although the water or surroundings may smell strongly of chlorine it is hard to maintain bacteriocidal levels of dissolved chlorine gas in hot water.”2
Let me back up for a little bit. Hypersensitivity pneumonitis, also known as extrinsic allergic alveolitis (EAA), is a disease that is often misdiagnosed as asthma or bronchitis. In particular, hot tub lung, which is one type of hypersensitivity penumonitis, results from the gram-positive Mycobacterium avium.3
Mycobacterium avium? Why I am suddenly discussing bacteria in the middle of hydrotherapy?
The proliferation of this bacteria species is one of the several unexpected consequences of using hot tubs too much. Note how in the article from The New York Times (second source cited in this article), the author explains how the heat surrounding the hot tubs provides a suitable environment for the growth of bacteria without sufficient amount of bactericides to kill them.
Furthermore, in the 2002 case report from Mayo Clinic Proceedings, the authors of the case report did an analysis of two women (one being 45-years old and other one being 50-years old) who had respiratory failures. They stated (in their abstract), “Discontinuation of hot tub use, without antimycobacterial therapy, led to prompt improvement in symptoms, pulmonary function, and radiographic abnormalities, strongly supporting a diagnosis of hypersensitivity pneumonitis.”4
So, no hot tubs for me?
I think that in any situation regarding homeostasis, this is the tough part. First, you hear about the good stories and claims/testimonials from people in the past. Then, once you try it out and start to feel better about yourself, you then hear about negative things (in this case, M. avium), leading you to doubt yourself for the usage. So, what do you do? Should you just stop what you are doing?
I believe that the proper way is to learn more about both positive and negative things about them. For instance, even in the article from Mayo Clinic Proceedings, both women in the research were former smokers, indicating the possibility that they have less healthy lungs than normal people in the beginning. So, while stopping the hot tub use did ameliorate their condition, it isn’t clear as to whether such suggestion is recommended for everyone. In other words, some people may be able to maintain perfectly healthy life at the usages that those two women were doing while others can be victims of hypersensitivity pneumonitis much sooner.
Just like how every person’s DNA is different, it can be argued that every person’s homeostasis is different as well. What breaks the homeostasis of one individual may not for another individual, so the best way to know for sure about your condition is to have a licensed medical doctor to check your conditions. Remember that a good thing about regular check-ups is that just like in this case of hot tubs and M. avium, you may end up discovering something unexpected and unanticipated problem in your life by checking on something completely different.
1 “Hot Tub Health Benefits – Hydrotherapy – Thermo Spas,” Thermo Spas, Accessed 29 Aug. 2010 http://www.thermospas.com/spa/hot-tub-spa.html
2 Jane E. Brody, “Personal Health,” The New York Times 28 Jan. 1987. http://www.nytimes.com/1987/01/28/garden/personal-health-394987.html
3Kaplan MCAT Biology Notes in Partnership with Scientific American, 2009-2010 Edition. (New York: Kaplan Publishing 2009) 169.
4 Otis B. Rickman, DO; Jay H. Ryu, MD; Mark E. Fidler, MD; and Sanjay Kalra, MD (Note: this is the order of authors given in the original article and must be maintained in this manner), “Hypersensitivity Penumonitis Associated With Mycobacterium avium Complex and Hot Tub Use,” Mayo Clin Proc. 2002, 77: 1233-1237. http://www.mayoclinicproceedings.com/content/77/11/1233.full.pdf