Why your showerhead could give you a lung infection

The shower is a warm, happy place. You have time to think, decompress, take a few deep breaths, warm up, pamper yourself, sing or whatever else you like to do once the shower curtain closes.

But your shower could be a dangerous place too. And I’m not referring to your risk of slipping and falling (although, investing in non-slip mats or treads for your shower floor isn’t a bad idea).

I’m talking about the dangerous lung infection hanging over your head…literally.

It turns out, an important piece of shower paraphernalia — your showerhead — is a breeding ground for hazardous bacteria that can cause a serious lung infection.

Dangerous bacteria dwelling on your showerhead

Researchers from the University of Colorado, Boulder recently found a connection between mycobacteria on showerheads and nontuberculous mycobacterial (NTM) lung infections.

Now, depending on where you live, your water source and your water chemistry, you might have different bacteria growing on your showerhead.

In areas like Hawaii, southern California, Florida, the upper Midwest, and the mid-Atlantic states, for example, mycobacteria are a common visitor to bathroom showerheads. Mycobacterium is a genus of bacteria that includes over 190 bacteria species. The species in this genus are common culprits behind human disease. In fact, they cause everything from tuberculosis to leprosy.

But here’s the fascinating thing University of Colorado researchers discovered in this study…

The areas where mycobacteria are common on showerheads are the same areas where nontuberculous mycobacterial (NTM) lung infections are most common. That means, there’s probably a connection between the two.

In case you don’t know, nontuberculous mycobacterial (NTM) lung infections are triggered by organisms (like mycobacteria) that are found naturally in water and soil. Some people can clear these organisms out of their lungs without developing an infection. But others end up with a chronic lung infection that causes coughing, shortness of breath, fatigue, weight loss and a major decrease in quality of life.

This lung infections affects more than 80,000 people in the U.S. each year. But it happens much more frequently to older adults than the general population. So, if you’re over 65, you probably want to take extra precautions to protect yourself from mycobacteria.

Peak Golden Oil

Helps Your Body Maintain Optimum Immune Balance!


Is your showerhead putting you at risk?

There are a few factors that put you more at risk for exposure to the mycobacteria that cause these life-changing lung infections.

One factor, like I mentioned earlier, is where you live. If you live in Hawaii, southern California, Florida, the upper Midwest and the mid-Atlantic states, you’re much more likely to be exposed to these bacteria in your shower. People in the U.S. are also more than twice as likely to be exposed to this bacteria on their showerhead than people in Europe.

If you get your water from municipal water treatment plants, you’re twice as likely to have this bacteria on your showerhead than people who have well water. And if you have a metal showerhead or a showerhead that mixes metal and plastic, you’re twice as likely to have this bacteria on your showerhead than people who have an all plastic one.

The thing is, you’re probably not going to move to another part of the country because you might have bad bacteria on your showerhead. And you can’t exactly change the source of your water. You can get a plastic showerhead. But previous studies show that plastic showerheads accumulate more bacteria than metal showerheads overall. They just have less of the mycobacteria that cause nontuberculous mycobacterial (NTM) lung infections.

Read: 5 kinds of black mold (and where they hide)

Can you make your shower a safe, happy place again?

You can clean your showerhead regularly. And by regularly, I don’t mean daily, weekly or even monthly. Every six months should do the trick. Just detach the showerhead and soak it in a bowl of white vinegar for an hour or so.

If your showerhead is hard to detach, grab a strong plastic bag, fill it with vinegar and secure it around the showerhead so it’s completely submerged. Let it sit for an hour, then take the bag off and dump the vinegar down the sink. Run the showerhead for a second to clear out any remaining vinegar.

If you remember to do this a couple of times a year, it will make a big difference in your showerhead’s bacteria count. Then you can stop spending shower time worrying about dangerous lung infections and get back to scrubbing and singing.

Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.