Is it just the common cough or something more serious?

Dr. Alvin Francisco

A cough is one of the most frequent ailments for which individuals contact family doctors or general practitioners. It is, in fact, the body’s defensive response when anything irritates the airways or the throat.

Even though the occasional cough is normal, a chronic cough lasting for several weeks, or months should be investigated by a doctor, more so, if accompanied by other symptoms like fever, difficulty of breathing, blood in the sputum or weight loss. To make matters more confusing, oftentimes, the presentation of cough in other diseases or conditions is the same with tuberculosis (TB).

“TB cough usually presents at least 2 weeks or more, and may even last for months especially if untreated or no appropriate treatment for TB” said Dr. Alvin Francisco, a radiologist at National Kidney and Transplant Institute in Quezon City. “Tb cough may also be accompanied by fever, weight loss, night sweats or blood in the sputum (or phlegm).”

So how do you know if it’s just the common cough or something more? Dr. Francisco shared how you can distinguish between the two.

If it’s common cough and colds:

  1. Symptoms involve the throat and nasal passage.
  2. Common cold symptoms often start with a sore throat and runny nose, followed by coughing and sneezing with or without fever.
  3. Cough, dry or moist, with post-nasal drip (tickling in the back of the throat).
  4. Has a shorter duration.
  5. Self-limiting condition.
  6. Healed in five to seven days.

If it’s Tuberculosis:

For adults, four major signs and symptoms that lasts for 2 weeks or more:

  1. Cough
    1. Unexplained fever
    1. Unexplained weight loss
    1. Night sweats

According to Dr. Francisco, chest x-ray is used to initially screen TB. Sputum test is further done to confirm if a person has TB disease. All those with at least one of the cardinal signs and symptoms of TB OR with CXR finding suggestive of TB should undergo sputum testing (rapid molecular test).

In addition, a chest x-ray reveals radiographic signs typical of TB, such as upper lobe infiltrates or cavities, but a common cold or cough can be diagnosed based only on a physical exam and history, without the need for any further testing or screening”

Taking Precaution

For those who are found out to have TB or those who are taking medications, here are ways to stop transmission:

  1. When you cough or sneeze, always cover your mouth and nose with a tissue, towel, collar, or sleeves. Continuously use your face mask, especially if with respiratory symptoms. Also, avoid spitting in private or public places.
  2. Isolate yourself if not yet started on appropriate TB treatment or if still within the first 2 weeks of TB treatment.
  3. Open the windows in your house or use fan. This facilitates air movement.
  4. All your medical appointments should be kept. Your doctor will examine you to ensure that the TB medication is effective. Your TB treatment may take longer or worsen if you miss to take your medications regularly.
  5. Practice healthy habits such as: eating healthy, exercising, avoiding smoking and drinking alcohol

“TB is curable – as long as you take your medications every day and you religiously follow your doctor’s orders,” said Dr. Francisco. “For those who are still in denial and refuse to get tested or treated, ask and acknowledge why they don’t want to get the treatment. Then from there, educate and plan action on how to advise them.” He added that for check-ups, you can always go to your nearest health centers or barangay clinics.

For more information about TB, visit https://tbfree.ph/. This includes an online self-assessment tool to help with TB identification and treatment. It may also be used to check for suspected TB, and locate the nearest health facility.

The https://tbfree.ph/ is part of the Department of Health (DOH)’s local communication campaign, Para Healthy Lungs, KonsulTayo, which is supported by USAID’s TB Innovations and Health Systems Project (TBIHSS). It aims to raise tuberculosis as a public health priority in the country using social and conventional media methods.

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