Tuberculosis or TB is a contagious bacterial infection which primarily attacks the lungs or throat but can spread to other parts of the body such as brain and spine. This is caused by a type of bacteria called mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tuberculosis in the throat or lungs can prove fatal if not treated in time. In fact, in earlier days, tuberculosis was one of the most common causes of death worldwide.

Types of Tuberculosis

A person infected with tuberculosis might not necessarily fall sick because tuberculosis is also of two different forms explained below:

Latent Tuberculosis: In this form of TB, the bacteria are present in the body – usually the lungs or throat – but do not spread to other body parts, instead lie dormant. This implies that the person does not feel any symptoms and is not contagious. However, since the infection is living in the body, there are high chances it can become active triggered by cases with the weak immune system such as:

  • 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)

Active Tuberculosis: In this form of TB, the germs affect the lungs and throat, multiply and increase to spread to other body parts and make a person sick. Most of active TB cases are results of latent TB. 

Signs and Symptoms of Tuberculosis in Throat

Tuberculosis mainly attacks the lungs and throat. In the case of latent TB, there will no symptoms since the infection is dormant but it can be diagnosed through a blood test. On the other hand, active TB will have some of the below symptoms:

  • 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 infected with tuberculosis might display some or all of these symptoms depending on the severity of the infection. Also, if the infection has spread to any other organ in the body, the symptoms will differ and will depend on the concerned organ, such as if tuberculosis has spread to the spine, a person will experience severe backache and in case, the infection has affected the kidneys, the person might find blood in the urine. These symptoms may arise individually or in combination with the above general symptoms.

Despite the infection is very contagious, tuberculosis does not thrive on surfaces and hence, cannot spread through simple activities such as shaking hands or sharing food with an infected person. The virus will only spread to another being if he/she is in close contact with the infected person for a long period. In that respect, some people who become more prone to being infected with the virus are:

  • Family
  • Close friends
  • Co-workers
  • 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.

Diagnosis of Tuberculosis in Throat

Like any other form of tuberculosis, TB in the throat can also be diagnosed by two tests that include:

Skin Test: Also known as Mantoux tuberculin skin test, this procedure involves injecting a specific fluid into the skin of the lower arm; post 2-3 days, this area is analysed for any swelling to assess the presence of TB bacteria.

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.

If the tests result positive, the doctor will perform an X-Ray of chest and throat or a CT scan to assess for changes in the lungs and the presence of TB bacteria.

Treatment of Tuberculosis in Throat

Treatment of tuberculosis in the throat is similar to treatment of any other form of tuberculosis and depends on the type of TB – active or latent.

  • In the case of latent TB, the patient is given medications to kill the bacteria so that the tuberculosis bacteria do not become active.
  • In the case of active TB, the combination of medications is given to control the spread of bacteria. The course of medicines is long, approximately 6 to 12 months.

Preventing Tuberculosis in Throat

Tuberculosis is easily preventable in both cases – where a person has no infection or has a latent TB infection. Some easy steps to prevent TB in any form, including the throat, are:

  • Take vaccinations such as BCG vaccine to prevent the infection from entering the body.
  • For people who have latent TB, ensure to get attentive medical care and regular monitoring. Moreover, it is important to take all medications to kill the tuberculosis germs so that they do not develop into active TB.
  • For people with active TB, 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.
  • For 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 any form including the throat can be easily prevented and treated provided timely medical care is received. In cases that fail to receive effective and timely treatment, tuberculosis can be life-threatening.