Summary

  • NTM lung disease is a serious disease caused by bacteria commonly found in soil and water. It can cause damage to the lungs and make people very ill.
  • NTM lung disease mainly affects women over 50 years old, of European and Asian descent. 
  • It is more commonly found in warmer climates

What is NTM lung disease?

NTM lung disease is a serious disease caused by bacteria commonly found in soil and water. It can cause damage to the lungs and make people very ill.

NTM lung disease mainly affects women over 50 years old, of European and Asian descent. 

It is more commonly found in warmer climates.

Signs and symptoms of NTM lung disease

Signs and symptoms of NTM lung disease include:

  • breathing problems
  • chest pain
  • intermittent coughing
  • weight loss
  • loss of appetite
  • night sweats and fever
  • lack of energy.

Diagnosis of NTM lung disease

NTM lung disease is often diagnosed incorrectly, or not diagnosed at all. 

It is diagnosed using a CT scan and an acid-fast bacilli smear test of your sputum (the thick liquid that comes from your respiratory tract when you cough).

Regular chest x-rays do not provide enough information to make an accurate diagnosis.

Treatment of NTM lung disease

Not all patients with NTM lung disease require immediate treatment, but they should be assessed by a specialist familiar with the condition (with experience in managing patients with this disease before). 

Antibiotics are used to treat NTM lung disease. Successful treatment can take 18 to 24 months. Some people will make a full recovery, while others need ongoing monitoring for the rest of their life.

It may be important to identify how and where NTM exposure happened (for example, a contaminated spa bath) to reduce the risk of further infections.

Prevention of NTM lung disease

The best way to prevent NTM lung disease is to make sure all your taps and water appliances (showers, baths, spa baths) are installed and working correctly, and your hot water system is operating at the recommended temperature (>60 ºC). 

If you are gardening –particularly if you are working with soil or potting mix – wear a dust mask to avoid breathing in particulate matter which could contain NTM. 

Living with NTM lung disease

An important part of living with NTM lung disease is managing your symptoms. Try to get enough rest, eat healthy food and look out for side effects of treatment (for example, yeast infections from antibiotic treatment).

Physiotherapy can help clear your airways by removing any sputum in your lungs. Talk to your physiotherapist about lung clearance exercises.

Managing an illness like NTM lung disease can be challenging both physically and emotionally. You may want to consider seeking support through a mental health professional or through joining a support group of other people going through a similar situation. 

You may want to join an online support group or join or create a support group in your local area.

Where to get help

References
  • Griffith DE, Aksamit T, Brown-Elliott BA 2007, ‘An official ATS/IDSA statement: diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of nontuberculous mycobacterial diseases’, American Journal of Respiratory Critical Care Medicine, vol. 175, pp. 367–416 (pdf). More information here.
  • Couper M 2016, NTM: a little known lung disease, Lung Foundation Australia.More information here.
  • Nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM), Lung Foundation Australia.More information here.
  • What tests to order, NTM Info and Research, USA.More information here.
  • Airway clearance, NTM Info and Research, USA.More information here.

More information

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This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by: Lung Foundation Australia

Last updated: November 2016

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