Nontuberculous mycobacterial (NTM) lung disease is a serious infection caused by bacteria that are common in the environment and can cause lung damage. They are aerosolized, which means that the bacteria can exist in water and soil particles that are in the air. People can get NTM lung disease when they breathe in the bacteria. Everyone comes into contact with NTM bacteria during their daily lives. However, not everyone is at risk of getting NTM lung disease. Those with underlying lung conditions like bronchiectasis, COPD, and asthma are at greater risk.
There are many species of NTM. Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC) is the most common, accounting for 80% of all NTM lung disease cases in the US.
NTM lung disease can make you sick and cause you to experience symptoms, like coughing, fatigue, and shortness of breath. People can have NTM for months, sometimes years, without knowing it because symptoms are similar to other lung conditions.
If ignored, your symptoms can worsen. An NTM infection can cause permanent damage to your lungs over time if left untreated.
Take a closer look at how people living with lung conditions like bronchiectasis, COPD, or asthma can become infected with NTM lung disease.
Shedding light on NTM: Nontuberculous mycobacterial lung disease
Nontuberculous mycobacteria or NTM are invisible to the naked eye but are common in the environment.
People may come in contact with NTM in soil, tap water, steam in tubs, and in showerheads.
Most people do not develop NTM lung disease because their lungs are healthy enough to clear the bacteria; but people with a history of bronchiectasis, COPD, or asthma are at risk because their conditions make it difficult to clear NTM from the lungs.
Women and individuals aged 65 and older, as well as people with compromised immune systems also have a greater risk of NTM lung infection.
When NTM bacteria are inhaled, they can affect the damaged areas of the lungs and hide inside the body’s immune cells called macrophages.
NTM disable the defenses of macrophages, allowing the bacteria to multiply inside the body.
Common NTM lung disease symptoms which include coughing, shortness of breath and fatigue can worsen over time. And if not treated, can cause lung damage. To prevent NTM from causing serious and permanent lung damage, early diagnosis and appropriate treatment are important. If you suspect that you may have NTM, see your healthcare provider.
For more information about NTM, please visit aboutntm.com.
Although the number of people diagnosed grows every year, many people who have it may not even know it. That’s because the symptoms of NTM lung disease are similar to the symptoms of other lung conditions, like bronchiectasis, COPD, and asthma.
People who have bronchiectasis, COPD, and asthma are at greater risk of getting NTM lung disease. Why? Because the damage in their lungs caused by other lung conditions makes them more vulnerable to infection. Sometimes people can get infected if they have had severe or chronic pneumonia.
While the symptoms of NTM and tuberculosis, or TB, can be nearly identical and can look very similar in test results, NTM and TB are very different diseases. TB is contagious and can be spread from person to person, while NTM is not considered to be contagious.
Ask about NTM lung disease—Think you may have NTM lung disease? Download this discussion guide to help start a conversation about NTM with your doctor.
NTM bacteria are common in the environment. People can come into contact with NTM bacteria through simple, daily activities, such as showering or gardening.
NTM can live in water and soil particles which can become aerosolized, allowing the bacteria to be breathed in.
Everyone comes into contact with NTM bacteria during their daily lives. However, not everyone is at risk of getting NTM lung disease. Most people do not become infected because their lungs are healthy and can clear NTM bacteria.
The bacteria can be found in places such as:
tubs and showers
Mist from the water
used to wash dishes
Soil from parks, gardens,
One study across 25 states showed that NTM bacteria were found in nearly 8 out of 10 water samples.
The symptoms of NTM lung disease are similar to other lung conditions. So similar, in fact, that NTM is sometimes misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all. Many people have symptoms, but may think it’s due to a lung condition they already have. People can have NTM for months, sometimes years, without knowing it.
If you live with a lung condition, like bronchiectasis, COPD, or asthma, you know what your symptoms typically feel like. So how can you tell if it’s NTM and not just your current lung condition acting up?
Well, the truth is, it’s very difficult. However, NTM lung disease has key symptoms that often get worse over time and don’t go away. For example, your cough can get worse, you can feel out of breath easily, and you can feel tired often – like your “get up and go” got up and went. These symptoms could be a sign that you have NTM lung disease. You may notice these symptoms come and go. You may have them every day. Each case of NTM is different.
If you have NTM lung disease, you may experience one or several of
these common signs and symptoms. Click each one to learn more:
If these sound like you, talk to your doctor about whether or not you should get tested for NTM lung disease.
If you have a lung condition, NTM bacteria can aggravate and make it worse. This can cause harm to your lungs over time. Worsening symptoms may also be a sign that you have an NTM infection. That’s why it’s important to get checked by your doctor if you feel your symptoms are not going away, or are getting worse.
If you have BRONCHIECTASIS
and NTM: Your symptoms, like a cough, may get worse and you could find yourself using airway clearance techniques more often
If you have
COPD and NTM: You may experience more flare-ups, difficulty breathing, and you may have a harder time catching your breath
If you have
ASTHMA and NTM: You may experience more flare-ups and have a much harder time catching your breath
Does it sound like you could have NTM lung disease? People like you have shared their stories in hopes of spreading more awareness about this disease.
Watch real people tell their stories about NTM lung disease