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Medically reviewed by Last updated on Mar 5, 2023.

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 nose, throat, and airway and produce a toxin. The toxin can block these passages or cause pneumonia. The toxin can also spread through your bloodstream and cause life-threatening damage to your 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 you 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 medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done. Make sure all your questions are answered.


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


You will need to be in a room away from other patients. Anyone who comes into your 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 room. These precautions help prevent you 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 heart.
  • A vaccine may be given to protect you from another diphtheria infection, and to protect others around you.


  • The coating in your airway may be removed if it is preventing you from breathing or swallowing.
  • Extra oxygen may be given if you develop problems breathing. You may also need to use a ventilator if you have trouble breathing on your own. A ventilator is a machine that breathes for you.
  • A nasogastric (NG) tube may be needed if you cannot swallow. An NG tube is put into your nose and passed down your throat until it reaches your 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 stomach empty.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.


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


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

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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.

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Treatment options

Further information

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