A man coughing into his hand.

Everything You Need to Know About NTM Lung Disease

What is NTM Lung Disease?

While nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) lung disease is rare, it has become more common in people aged 65 years and older. Severe NTM lung disease can drastically impact a person’s quality of life, yet a lot of people inhale NTM and do not develop an infection or disease.

In this article, we are going to explore NTM lung disease further. We’ll go over the causes, symptoms and treatment options available, helping you get all the information you need regarding this specific condition.

NTM Lung Disease Overview

NTM lung disease, also known as MAC lung disease, happens when a person inhales NTM into their respiratory tract. However, this does not mean a person will go on to develop any kind of infection. Usually, an infection occurs in a more vulnerable part of the population, such as those with a weak immune system or those taking medication that impacts their immune response.

The main problem with this infection is that it can slowly damage the lungs, leaving behind scarring and irreversible damage. Surprisingly, there are more than 120 types of NTM bacteria that can lead to this condition.

A person with the following conditions is more likely to develop an infection from NTM:

  • COPD, bronchiectasis, cystic fibrosis and emphysema.
  • AIDS or HIV, or an autoimmune disease.
  • Lung transplant.
  • Alcoholism.

Additionally, older individuals and females are more likely to experience NTM lung disease.

The Signs and Symptoms of NTM Lung Disease

Each person may experience different symptoms and severity. Some of these signs may include:

  • Fatigue.
  • Cough (sometimes with blood).
  • Fever.
  • Loss of weight and appetite.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Night sweats.
  • Increased mucus production.
  • Wheezing.
  • Chest pain.

Usually, there are two main types of this disease disease. The first type causes scarring throughout the airways, which leads to frequent coughing. The second type is more severe, and causes scarring, pits and cavities in the lungs. This type is more likely to lead to lung failure. However, usually, this disease is not fatal.

NTM Lung Disease Treatment Options

Depending on the type and severity you acquire, your treatment may vary. Typically, you and your doctor will discuss what type of treatment is best for you. The following offers a brief overview of current treatment options available.

1. Antibiotics

Antibiotics are the go-to treatment for this condition, especially for mild cases. At the same time, the problem with NTM lung disease is that the bacteria associated with it has a tendency to become resistant to antibiotics, which usually means that different types of antibiotics are required.

Depending on the severity of your condition, your doctor will run tests every few months to determine what is happening with the antibiotics and bacteria. It’s also important to note that this treatment can pose various discomforts since antibiotics tend to come with various side effects, including digestive discomforts.

2. Surgery

If antibiotics do not do the trick or you have a severe case, your doctor may consider surgery. Surgery involves the removal of the infected portion of the lung or stopping any persistent bleeding.

Most types of surgery for this disease are performed using minimally-invasive techniques to avoid lengthy recovery times or complications.

3. Lifestyle Disease Management

A key part of treatment is managing the condition itself while your body works on clearing out the bacteria. This may involve:

  • Airway clearance techniques, such as physical therapy, nebulization, postural drainage, chest percussion devices and more.
  • Actively preventing further infections by washing your hands and staying up to date with your immunizations.
  • Avoiding smoke or chemical exposure.
  • Exercising to improve lung health and build endurance.
  • Consuming a balanced and healthy diet.
  • Seeking professional help for anxiety or depression (which is common for those with severe forms of NTM lung disease).
  • Wearing a mask or dust mask when necessary.
  • Staying away from steamy areas or saunas.

A diagnosis can feel overwhelming, but it is important to manage your stress and emotions during this time so that your body can work toward recovery. Talking with your support system or a professional can significantly help you manage this.

For mild cases, your body might clear the bacteria all on its own. For more severe cases, it can take up to two years to make a full recovery. It’s further important to differentiate NTM lung disease from tuberculosis. These are two different illnesses, and they should be treated as such.

The good news is that most people make a full recovery. Following your doctor’s orders, managing your symptoms and adhering to treatment can help ensure this process goes as smoothly as possible.

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