Bronchitis vs Tuberculosis

Categories: TB

The lungs are two of the body’s most vital organs. They provide the space for the exchange of gases to occur because every cell in the body needs oxygen to live. But the air we breathe in does not only contain oxygen and other gases; there are germs, bacteria, and viruses floating around too which, when inhaled, can cause various lung diseases. The problem is many people often think that all forms of coughing are the same and can be treated by the same over the counter medicine. Medicine for cough and cold can help ease the discomfort caused by the common cold but there are diseases that need more than cough suppressants and decongestants. Two of these diseases are bronchitis and tuberculosis. These two are far more potent and serious than your average cough, and while they may seem (and sound) similar at first, they are vastly different and will require different treatments to cure them.

Read on to learn the difference between bronchitis and tuberculosis, how to spot it, and more importantly, how to properly treat it.

What is bronchitis?

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, which carry air to the lungs. As the irritated membrane swells and thickens, it narrows or shuts off the tiny airways in the lungs, resulting in coughing spells that may be accompanied by phlegm and breathlessness. The disease comes in two forms: acute and chronic bronchitis. Acute bronchitis is more common and usually caused by a viral infection which also causes the common cold and influenza (flu) while chronic bronchitis is a cough that persists for two to three months or until two years. Smoking is the most common cause of chronic bronchitis, although it can also be caused by different pollutants such as air pollution, dust, or toxic gases in the environment.

Bronchitis symptoms

The symptoms of acute or chronic bronchitis are the same. They may include:

  • Cough
  • Presence of mucus (sputum) that may be either clear, white, yellowish-gray, or green – in some rare cases, it can be streaked with blood
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Slight fever and chills
  • Chest discomfort

If you have acute bronchitis, you may also show symptoms similar to a cold like a mild headache or even body pain. These may disappear in a week or so, but the coughing will persist for several weeks.

Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, is a cough that lasts at least three months with recurring bouts which occur for at least two consecutive years.

Those with chronic bronchitis will go through periods when their cough or symptoms are worse than usual. During these times, it is likely that you have developed an acute infection on top of the chronic bronchitis.

What is tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis is an infectious disease usually caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The disease can be transmitted through saliva splashes when the patient is coughing. The classic symptoms of active tuberculosis are chronic coughs with blood-containing sputum, fever, night sweats and weight loss. Tuberculosis generally affects the lungs but it can also affect the other parts of the body because the infection can spread via blood from the lungs to all organs in the body.

Tuberculosis symptoms

Even if you are exposed to the bacteria that causes tuberculosis or even get infected by the bacteria, your immune system may be strong enough to fight it which prevents you from becoming sick. This is why doctors classify tuberculosis into two distinct types:

  • Latent TB – Latent TB refers to those who have the TB infection, but the bacteria in the body is inactive and the patient does not present any symptoms. This is also called inactive TB or TB infection. Latent TB is not contagious although it can turn into active TB if not immediately treated.
  • Active TB – Active TB is also called the TB disease. This is what people generally think of when they hear of tuberculosis. Active TB is the condition that makes you sick and can spread to others. It can take weeks or even years after infection for active TB to develop.

Signs and symptoms of Active TB include:

  • Coughing for three or more weeks
  • Coughing up blood or mucus
  • Chest pain, or pain with breathing or coughing
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Chills
  • Loss of appetite

Treating bronchitis

Bronchitis may be avoided by not smoking, staying away or reducing time around things that can cause irritation in the nose, throat and lungs (dust and animal dander, for example), washing hands often, and maintaining a healthy diet to boost the immune system. Rest is advisable especially if the person has contracted a cold, as well as taking the medicine exactly how the doctor ordered.

Treating tuberculosis

Tuberculosis may be prevented by not exposing one’s self to people with active TB. Getting a BCG (Bacille Calmette-Guerin) vaccine is also recommended to help prevent the spread of TB, especially among small children. Latent TB (a type of TB where the bacteria are trapped in tiny capsules produced by the immune system to prevent further complications) and active TB both require immediate medical supervision so early diagnosis and treatment is advised to prevent deterioration of the disease and spread of the infection.

Which is more dangerous?

Both diseases are potentially dangerous especially if left untreated. Acute bronchitis, if not tended to, can progress to pneumonia and chronic bronchitis, especially in people with suppressed immune systems. Chronic bronchitis is associated with long-term constriction of airways, bacterial infection and other diseases like asthma, emphysema, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which can eventually lead to death.

Tuberculosis, especially if it is active, can cause serious damages in some areas in the lungs, which may bleed and may become infected with bacteria. The patient will also experience difficulty breathing because of the blocked airways and a hole may form between the nearby airways in the lungs. It can also lead to death, if the patient didn’t receive proper medical care.

The body consists of several organs that work together to ensure that it is working properly. If one fails, it is possible for the other organs to slowly deteriorate. Without the lungs, oxygen will not flow to the blood. Without oxygen, the organs including the heart will lose function. Caring for the lungs will not just benefit itself but the entire body as well.

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