What is diphtheria?


Know the basics

What is diphtheria?

Diphtheria is considered to be a bacterial infection that has a serious effect on the mucous membranes of your nose and throat. The bacteria that causes the disease can create toxins which destroy human tissue, especially in the nose and throat. Vaccine can be used to prevent diphtheria.

How common is diphtheria?

Diphtheria is rare in United States and Europe but still common in developing countries where there is low rates of people getting vaccination. It can affect patients at any age. Diphtheria can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Know the symptoms

What are the symptoms of diphtheria?

While diphtheria bacteria can infect any tissue in the body, its most prominent signs are at the throat and mouth. The common signs and symptoms of diphtheria are:

  • Your throat is covered by a thick, gray membrane;
  • A sore throat and hoarseness;
  • Swollen glands in your neck;
  • Breathing and swallowing problems, malaise;
  • Nasal discharge, drooling;
  • Fever and chills, bluish skin;
  • A loud, barking cough;
  • A general feeling of uneasiness or discomfort;
  • Changes in vision;
  • Slurred speech;
  • Signs of shock, such as pale and cold skin, sweating, and a rapid heartbeat.

There may be some signs or symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

You should contact your doctor if you or your child has been exposed to or contact someone with diphtheria. In case you have no idea about if you or your child has been vaccinated against diphtheria, schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.

Know the causes

What causes diphtheria?

It is the Corynebacterium, which is a bacteria that spread the disease via airborne droplets, contaminated personal items and contaminated household items.

If you breathe in droplets in the air from the coughs and sneezes of an infected person, you can get diphtheria. This is an effective way for the disease to spread, particularly in crowded conditions.

The other cause of the disease is that you contact contaminated personal items. You can get diphtheria from handling an infected person’s used tissues, drinking from unwashed glass, or coming into similarly close contact with other items that can carry bacteria. In rare cases, diphtheria spreads on shared household items, such as towels or toys.

Touching an infected wound also cause you to be exposed to diphtheria-causing bacteria.

Know the risk factors

What increases my risk for diphtheria?

There are many risk factors for diphtheria, such as:

  • The location you live in;
  • Not up to date on your vaccinations;
  • Travelling to a country that doesn’t provide immunizations;
  • Having an immune system disorder, such as AIDS;
  • Living in unclean or crowded conditions.

Understand the diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is diphtheria diagnosed?

To diagnose your disease, your doctor will perform a physical exam to check for swollen lymph nodes. When they see a gray coating on your throat or tonsils, they can suppose that you have diphtheria. They might also ask you about your medical history and the symptoms you have been having.

However, the surest method to diagnose diphtheria is by a biopsy. For a biopsy, a sample of the affected tissue can be taken and then sent to a laboratory for testing to determine if you have diphtheria bacteria or not.

How is diphtheria treated?

Your doctor may wish to treat your disease quickly because diphtheria is really a serious condition. First, they can give you an antitoxin injection. This is used to fight against the toxin produced by the bacteria. In case you are allergic to the antitoxin, you need to let your doctor know so that they can adjust your medication. With patients with allergy, doctors usually, start with small doses of the antitoxin and gradually increase the amounts. After that, your doctor will also prescribe antibiotics, such as erythromycin and penicillin, to help clear up the infection. After getting these medication, your doctor might recommend getting a booster dose of diphtheria vaccine when you are healthy to build resistance against diphtheria bacteria.

It is normal that your doctor ask you to stay in the hospital to observe your reaction to medication and to prevent spreading of the disease. If you realize that you have contacted a person infected with diphtheria, you must see a doctor for testing and possible treatment.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage diphtheria?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with diphtheria:

  • Lots of bed rest. It is good for you to limit any physical exertion when your heart has been affected. You may need to stay in bed for a few weeks or until you make a full recovery.
  • Strict isolation. You need to avoid pass the disease on others while you’re contagious.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: May 30, 2016 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017

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