What Is Diptheria? Here's Everything You Need To Know About It

 Diptheria is a serious bacterial throat infection of the throat and nose. Check out the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of the same.

Navya Kharbanda
Written by: Navya KharbandaPublished at: Feb 08, 2021Updated at: Feb 08, 2021
What Is Diptheria? Here's Everything You Need To Know About It

Have you ever heard of diptheria? Diphtheria is a serious bacterial infection that includes the throat and nose. It can infect the mucous membranes of both these parts. Diptheria can easily spread from one person to the other, but can also be prevented with the use of vaccines. It is an extremely rare condition in developed countries, due to the vaccinations against this disease. Diphtheria is treatable with the help of medications. However, in advanced stages, diphtheria can cause damage to your heart, kidneys and nervous system as well. Even along with treatment, diphtheria can be life threatening, specifically for children. Basically, diphtheria causes strains of a bacteria called Corynebacterium diphtheriae that produces harmful toxins. It can also result in several health problems such as difficulty in breathing, heart failure, paralysis, and even death. Vaccines are recommended for newborns, children as well as adults to prevent diphtheria.

Another type of diphtheria can affect the skin, causing pain, redness and inflammation, just like many other bacterial skin infections. In skin diptheria, the ulcers might not be open but covered by a gray membrane. However, this type of diptheria is more common in tropical areas and also develops in the United States, especially in people with poor hygiene conditions. Before Diptheria vaccines, this condition was one of the major causes of infant deaths across the world. You should call your doctor immediately if you feel you or your baby is suffering from diphtheria. If ignored and left untreated, it can cause severe damage to other organs of the body. Onlymyhealth editorial team spoke to Dr. Shashidhar, TB Head - Surgery (ENT), Artemis Hospitals, Gurgaon, about the symptoms, causes, diagnosis and treatment of Diptheria.

Diptheria causes


As per Dr. Shashidhar, a type of bacteria called Corynebacterium diphtheriae causes diphtheria and even if an infected person does not show any signs or symptoms of diphtheria, they can still transmit the bacterial infection for  upto six weeks after catching the infection. The bacteria majorly targets your nose and throat. Once you get infected, the bacteria produces harmful substances called toxins. The toxins can easily spread through your bloodstream and can become the reason behind a thick, gray cover to form in some areas of the body including tongue, throat, nose and oesophagus. Children under the age of 5 years old and senior citizens over the age of 60 years old are at a higher risk of getting diphtheria. People are also at a greater risk of getting infected with diphtheria if they are not aware about the appropriate vaccines, have an immune system disorder, such as AIDS or if they live in unhygienic or crowded places.

Also read: Did You Know You Could Be Blowing Your Nose In A Wrong Way? Know How To Do It Correctly

Diptheria symptoms

Symptoms of diphtheria usually start occuring within two to five days of getting infected. And, some people don’t even experience any signs of diptheria, while others might have very mild symptoms that might look similar to that of common cold or flu. The most visible and common symptom of diphtheria is a thick, gray coating on the throat and tonsils. Diphtheria signs often begin two to five days after a person gets infected. It starts with fever and within 1-2 days, the symptoms start getting worsened.  According to Dr. Shashidhar, here are the main symptoms of diptheria:

  • A thick, gray membrane covering your throat and tonsils
  • Slurred speech
  • Changes in vision
  • Sore throat
  • Hoarseness
  • Swollen glands in your neck
  • Difficulty in breathing or swallowing
  • Shock
  • Bleeding tonsils
  • Pale and cold skin
  • Sweating
  • Neck pain
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Nasal discharge
  • Fever
  • Malaise
throat pain

In a very few cases, infection with diphtheria causing bacteria causes only a mild illness or no specific signs and symptoms at all. Infected people who are unaware of their health condition are called carriers of diphtheria, because they have the capability to spread the infection without being sick themselves. If you live in an unsanitary/tropical area or have poor hygiene, you may also be at a greater risk of developing cutaneous diphtheria, or diphtheria of the skin. Diphtheria of the skin usually causes ulcers and redness in the infected area.

Also read: Is Sore Throat Troubling You? Here Are Some Remedies For Cure

Diptheria diagnosis

Your doctor will surely conduct a a physical exam to check for swollen tonsils. The doctor might also ask you about your medical history and the symptoms you have been experiencing. Doctors get to know about this bacterial infection just by looking and knowing about the signs or symptoms. Moreover, they might also try to swab the back of the throat or nose and test if it is the diptheria causing bacteria. Diptheria diagnosis is also done by taking a sample from an open sore or ulcer and try and grow the bacteria. If the bacteria grows and produces toxins, the doctor can be sure of his diagnosis. But, it takes time to grow the bacteria, so it is essential to do a quick diagnosis and start the treatment as diptheria can lead to other health problems as well. Diptheria diagnosis will be quite easy and evident if you have a gray coating on your throat or tonsils. If your doctor needs a confirmation regarding the same, then the they can take a sample of the affected tissue and send it to the laboratory for testing.

Diptheria treatment


Diphtheria is a severe throat condition, so your doctor will surely ask you to get treated as quickly and aggressively as possible. It is very rarely seen in adults and is a condition that mostly affects children. The treatment usually starts by giving an antitoxin injection. This is injected to combat the toxin produced by the bacteria. Make sure to tell your doctor if you think you might be allergic to the antitoxin injection. The small doses further moving to high dosage might help in recovering from this infection. Your doctor will also prescribe antibiotics, to help treat the various symptoms of the infection like pain, bleeding, etc. During treatment, your doctor may ask you stay in the hospital so that you don't infect others.

Also read: What Is The Difference Between Viral Throat Infection And Bacterial Throat Infection?

So, these were the symptoms, causes, diagnosis and treatment of diptheria by Dr. Shashidhar. Diphtheria bacteria is contagious and can spread from person to person, mostly through respiratory droplets from coughing and sneezing. Moreover, people can also get infected from touching an open sores or ulcers. So, if you experience any of the above mentioned symptoms then you should visit an ENT or your physician for further medical diagnosis and treatment.

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