What Is NTM lung disease?

Nontuberculous mycobacterial (NTM) lung disease is an infection caused by bacteria that are common in the environment. They are aerosolized, which means that they exist in water and soil particles that are in the air and breathed in. 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.

NTM lung disease

NTM can cause you to experience symptoms like coughing, fatigue, and shortness of breath. If ignored, your symptoms can worsen. In some cases, an NTM infection can cause severe, even permanent damage to the lungs. This can lead to NTM lung disease, a progressive and chronic condition.

NTM can cause damage to the lungs

How NTM Affects You

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
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You may have never heard of NTM lung disease before. 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 with bronchiectasis, COPD, and asthma are at risk for NTM lung disease

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.

NTM and Tuberculosis

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, and NTM is not considered 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.

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Discussion Guide

NTM in the Environment

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 bacteria through showering or gardening

NTM are aerosolized, which means they live in water and soil particles that are in the air and 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:

NTM bacteria in tap water

Tap water

NTM bacteria in showerheads

Showerheads

NTM bacteria in tub and shower steam

Steam from
tubs and showers

NTM bacteria in dishwater mist

Mist from the water
used to wash dishes

NTM bacteria in soil from parks, gardens, and environment

Soil from parks, gardens,
and environment

NTM bacteria in 8 out of 10 drinking water samples

One study across 25 states showed that NTM bacteria were found in nearly 8 out of 10 water samples.

Recognizing the Symptoms of NTM

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:

Coughing

NTM causes Coughing

It may be a chronic cough that you can’t get rid of, like a “coughing fit” or a cough that comes and goes. You may have a cough that:

  • is dry
  • brings up mucus
  • keeps you up at night
  • brings up blood

If you are coughing up blood, call or visit your doctor right away

TROUBLE BREATHING/ SHORTNESS OF BREATH

NTM causes Trouble breathing

When everyday activities, like walking your dog or climbing stairs, leave you short of breath, with a wheeze, or with tightness in your chest

Feeling Tired
Often

NTM causes you to feel tired

Feeling tired or exhausted often, making it hard to do daily activities

Weight loss and/or
lack of appetite

NTM causes weight loss, lack of appetite

Sudden, unexplained weight loss and/or when you don’t feel like eating

LOW-GRADE FEVER

NTM causes fever

A slight fever that
may also include night sweats and chills

Recurring
infection

NTM causes recurring infection

If you keep getting
a lung infection
or pneumonia

Symptoms May Not
Get Better with Medicine

NTM causes you to take medicine over a long period of time

You may have taken medications for other
lung conditions over a long period of time. But despite taking medicine, you
keep getting sick

If this sounds like you, talk to your doctor about whether or not you may have NTM lung disease.

Worsening symptoms

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.

Warning for NTM and other lung infections

If you have BRONCHIECTASIS
and NTM:
Your symptoms, like a cough, may get worse and you could find yourself using airway clearance devices 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 and their stories about NTM lung disease