Skip directly to search Skip directly to A to Z list Skip directly to navigation Skip directly to site content Skip directly to page options
CDC Home

Symptoms

Photo of child with swollen neck due to diphtheria infection

A child with swollen neck due to diphtheria infection.

When the bacteria that cause diphtheria invade the respiratory system, they produce a poison (toxin) that can cause:

  • Weakness
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Swollen glands in the neck

Within two to three days, a thick coating can build up in the throat or nose, making it very hard to breathe and swallow. This thick gray coating is called a "pseudomembrane" and it can build up over the nasal tissues, tonsils, voice box, and throat.

The pseudomembrane is formed from dead tissue caused by the toxin that is produced by the bacteria. The pseudomembrane sticks to the tissue below and may get in the way of breathing. The toxin may be absorbed into the blood stream and may cause damage to the heart, kidneys and nerves.

Related Pages

  • Diphtheria for Parents: The Basics
    Describes symptoms of infection as well as benefits and risks of vaccination.
    English [400 KB, 2 pages] | Spanish [170 KB, 2 pages]
  • Diphtheria for Parents: In Depth
    Offers information about recent diphtheria outbreaks. Describes symptoms of infection, benefits and risks of vaccination, details about the vaccine, and history of the disease.
    English [578 KB, 2 pages]

 

Images and logos on this website which are trademarked/copyrighted or used with permission of the trademark/copyright or logo holder are not in the public domain. These images and logos have been licensed for or used with permission in the materials provided on this website. The materials in the form presented on this website may be used without seeking further permission. Any other use of trademarked/copyrighted images or logos requires permission from the trademark/copyright holder...more

External Web Site Policy This graphic notice means that you are leaving an HHS Web site. For more information, please see the Exit Notification and Disclaimer policy.

 
Contact Us:
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    1600 Clifton Rd
    Atlanta, GA 30333
  • 800-CDC-INFO
    (800-232-4636)
    TTY: (888) 232-6348
    Contact CDC-INFO
USA.gov: The U.S. Government's Official Web PortalDepartment of Health and Human Services
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention   1600 Clifton Rd. Atlanta, GA 30333, USA
800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) TTY: (888) 232-6348 - Contact CDC–INFO
A-Z Index
  1. A
  2. B
  3. C
  4. D
  5. E
  6. F
  7. G
  8. H
  9. I
  10. J
  11. K
  12. L
  13. M
  14. N
  15. O
  16. P
  17. Q
  18. R
  19. S
  20. T
  21. U
  22. V
  23. W
  24. X
  25. Y
  26. Z
  27. #