Skip to main content

Diphtheria in Children


Diphtheria is a disease caused by a bacterial infection. The infection spreads quickly from person to person through sneezing or coughing. It can also be passed if a person uses a drinking glass or other item used by an infected person. The bacteria that cause diphtheria get into your child's nose, throat, and airway and produce a toxin. The toxin can block these passages or cause pneumonia. The toxin can also spread through your child's bloodstream and cause life-threatening damage to his or her heart or kidneys. It can also cause nerve damage that leads to paralysis.


Informed consent

is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that your child may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your child's medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done to your child. Make sure all of your questions are answered.


is a small tube placed in your child's vein that is used to give medicine or liquids.


Your child will need to be in a room away from other patients. Anyone who comes into your child's room will need to wear a mask, gown, and gloves. These will be removed before the person goes into other parts of the hospital. A person who has not had vaccines to protect against diphtheria will not be able to go into your child's room. These precautions help prevent your child from infecting others. Isolation is usually needed for about 48 hours after antibiotics are started.


  • Antitoxin is used to prevent the toxin from attacking nerves.
  • Antibiotics treat a bacterial infection.
  • Heart medicine may be needed if the toxin spreads to your child's heart.


  • The coating in your child's airway may be removed if it is preventing him or her from breathing or swallowing.
  • Extra oxygen may be given if your child develops problems breathing. Your child may also need to use a ventilator if he or she has trouble breathing on his or her own. A ventilator is a machine that breathes for your child.
  • A nasogastric (NG) tube may be needed if your child cannot swallow. An NG tube is put into your child's nose and passed down his or her throat until it reaches the stomach. Food and medicine may be given through an NG tube. The tube may instead be attached to suction if healthcare providers need to keep your child's stomach empty.


Your child may have heart, kidney, or nerve damage. He or she may develop a lung infection, such as pneumonia. His or her airway may become blocked, causing severe breathing problems. Diphtheria can be life-threatening.


You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child.

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2021 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.