World TB Day: How to differentiate between common cough and tuberculosis?

The symptoms of cough and tuberculosis replicate each other. Hence, one may be confused about their condition. Here’s the help you need.
Woman coughing
Here’s how to recognise the symptoms of cough and Tuberculosis. Image Courtesy: Shutterstock
Shifa Khan Published: 24 Mar 2022, 10:00 am IST
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Cough is one of the most common complaints for which people visit general practitioners or family physicians. A cough is a body’s protective reflex action when something irritates the throat or airways. Though occasional coughing is normal, a persistent cough with other associated symptoms like shortness of breath, mucus production, or bloody sputum could be the sign of a more serious medical problem and warrant a doctor’s visit. However, some symptoms of cough and tuberculosis are alike which may leave people baffled.

To recognize the symptoms of cough and tuberculosis correctly and to raise awareness against this respiratory disease on World Tuberculosis Day, HealthShots spoke to Dr Anish Desai, MD, Nutraceutical Physician at IntelliMed Healthcare Solutions.

“The type of cough and its duration is what helps clinicians to differentiate possible causes. Cough is common in pulmonary tuberculosis and other acute and chronic respiratory infections. The symptoms during the early stages of pulmonary tuberculosis are similar to those of common cold and cough. One needs to pay attention to the nature of coughing and its duration.” says Dr Desai.

According to Dr Desai, here are some key differences in presentation of common cold and cough and tuberculosis:

The common cold and cough often follows a viral upper respiratory tract infection whereas tuberculosis is the bacterial infection caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

Common cough and cold

  1. Symptoms related to nasal passage and throat.
  2. Sore throat and runny nose are usually the first signs of common cold followed by coughing and sneezing with or without fever.
  3. Dry or wet cough with post nasal drip (tickling in the back of the throat).
  4. Lasts for a shorter period
  5. Self-limiting disease
  6. Gets cured in 5 to 7 days
These symptoms may help you identify the difference between cough and Tuberculosis. Image courtesy: Shutterstock


  1. Symptoms appear gradually over the course of several weeks and persist if they are not treated.
  2. The patient has a history of close contact with an infectious TB patient.
  3. Cough lasting more than two weeks.
  4. Cough productive of purulent and/or blood stained sputum
  5. Appetite loss
  6. Weight loss
  7. Fever
  8. Night sweats
quick weight loss
Be wary of losing weight too fast, it may be a symptom of tuberculosis! Image courtesy: Shutterstock

“On physical examination, in the common cold, there could be redness of nasal mucosa and throat. Chest examination is usually normal. Chest examination in tuberculosis patients displays abnormal breath sounds like crackles or wheezing especially over the upper lobes or involved areas,” suggests Dr Desai.

Diagnosis of tuberculosis can be done by positive TB skin test (Mantoux test), blood test (interferon-gamma release assays or IGRAs) and sputum test. Dr Desai says, “Chest X-ray shows radiographic features characteristic of tuberculosis such as infiltrates or cavities whereas common cold and cough is diagnosed based on history and physical examination and does not require chest X-ray or tests.”

These home remedies for cough can provide relief even in symptoms of tuberculosis:

1. Ginger

It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and is used traditionally for respiratory disorders. Effective for throat infection, cold and cough.

Add ginger to your food for better lung health. Image courtesy: Pixabay

2. Turmeric

It has got antiviral, anti-inflammatory, antipyretic (agent that reduces fever), and anti-fatigue effects. Turmeric could be effective in managing the symptoms of respiratory tract infection.

3. Mulethi or Liquorice

Used as antitussive, cough suppressant and expectorant, helps to clear cough that produces mucus.

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About the Author

An aesthete and a skincare junkie, Shifa spends most of her time cooking delish food while wearing a sheet mask. At HealthShots, she creates high-octane content that can leave you all a little intrigued! ...Read More

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