Understanding Tuberculosis and its effect on the throat
Tuberculosis or TB is a disease caused by a type of bacteria, called Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which spread from person-to-person through air; this bacterium is released into the air when a person infected with TB coughs, sneezes, laughs, etc. However, it is not easy to be infected with tuberculosis easily; one needs to be in close proximity with the infected person for a prolonged period of time. It cannot spread from person-to-person by simple shaking of hands, sharing of food, etc. Thus, people more prone to being infected with tuberculosis are generally the family members, close friends, co-workers, etc.
Tuberculosis primarily affects the lungs or throat, though it has the potential to spread to other organs in the body such as the bones and joints. In fact, tuberculosis in the throat and lungs is the only form of tuberculosis which has the potential to spread to other organs; this is called pulmonary tuberculosis. In any form, if tuberculosis is left untreated, it can become life-threatening in fact even a delay in treatment can cause severe health issues. That said, it is easily curable provided it is diagnosed early and proper medical attention is received. Also, the aggressiveness of tuberculosis also depends on its type; in many cases people might have a latent form of tuberculosis which remains inactive and does not cause any harm. In other cases, active form of tuberculosis can prove fatal if not treated. Also, latent TB can become active if the immune system of the patient is compromised due to any reason.
People who have weak immune system include, but are not limited to:
- Babies and young children – with developing immune systems
- People who have diabetes or kidney disease
- HIV/ AIDS patient
- Organ transplant patients
- Cancer patients
- People with auto-immune disorders
- Malnourished or underweight people
- Chain smokers
- Substance users (alcohol and drugs)
Symptoms of Tuberculosis in Throat
The TB bacteria primarily affect the lungs and the throat, before spreading to any other body organ. In case of latent TB, the person does not experience any symptoms unless the infection becomes active. It can only be diagnosed via blood and skin tests. On the other hand, active TB produces symptoms which are easy to identify. Some of these symptoms include:
- A dense cough lasting more than 3 weeks
- Acute chest pain
- Pain in breathing or coughing
- Blood in cough
- Constant fatigue and extreme tiredness
- Night sweats
- Severe chills
- Consistent fever especially low-grade
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
A person suffering from tuberculosis might have some or all of these symptoms depending on the severity and growth of infection in the body. Also, the symptoms tend to vary as the bacteria starts to impact other body organs. These symptoms depend on the concerned organ such as if a person has tuberculosis which has spread to the spinal cord, he/she will experience sever backache, etc. and in cases, where the TB has affected the kidneys of a person, there will be symptoms such as blood in urine. These symptoms can occur in combination with other general TB symptoms or individually.
Spreading of Tuberculosis in Throat
Tuberculosis is contagious but it does thrive on surfaces and hence, cannot affect the other person through simple activities such as shaking hands, sharing food, etc. The infection only spread to another person if the infected person is in close contact for a long period of time. Some people who are more prone to being infected due to proximity include:
- Close friends
- People who have travelled to TB infected areas such as Russia, Asia, Eastern Europe, Asia, etc.
- People who live in a hospital or a nursing home.
Also, people with a weakened or compromised immune system are more prone to being infected with the virus.
Diagnoses of Tuberculosis in Throat
Symptoms of tuberculosis help to diagnose the disease which is further evaluated or confirmed by two specific tests. These include:
Skin Test: Also known as Mantoux tuberculin skin test, this test involves injecting a specific fluid into the skin of the lower arm of the patient and analysed for any swelling post 2-3 days. In case of swelling, the result is positive and there can be presence of TB bacteria in the body.
Blood Test: These are specific blood tests called nterferon-gamma release assays or IGRAs, which determine the presence of TB by mixing TB protein with some blood.
In case, any of the tests result positive, they are further confirmed through a CT scan or an X-Ray of chest or throat to detect any changes in lungs and the presence of TB bacteria.
Treatment and Prevention of Tuberculosis in Throat
Tuberculosis of any form including the throat can be prevented by taking vaccinations such as BCG vaccine to prevent the infection from entering the body. For people that have latent TB infection, it is important to get attentive medical care and take all medications to remove the bacteria and prevent it from becoming active.
Moreover, in cases where a person has active TB, it is important they get their medications which will last 6-12 months. Also, it is important to limit or restrict all contact with other people. Follow simple precautionary steps such as covering the mouth while yawning, sneezing, coughing, laughing, etc.
In case of people who are travelling to places that have a common presence of TB, it is important to get preventive vaccinations and avoid spending time in crowded places.
Tuberculosis of the throat is easily preventable and treatable provided proper medical care is received. In case, active TB cases are ignored and no medication is received for treatment, the patient can succumb to the infection.
With more than a million cases of tuberculosis in India, reported every year, it is critical to understand the symptoms and get the right treatment