#1 Diphtheria Nursing Diagnosis: Understanding the Condition and Providing Effective Care

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Diphtheria, a contagious bacterial infection, has the potential to affect both the respiratory tract and skin. The culprits behind this ailment are known as Corynebacterium diphtheria, and it is transmitted via respiratory droplets or by coming into contact with contaminated surfaces.

Manifesting with symptoms such as sore throat, fever, and swollen glands, diphtheria is not a condition to be taken lightly. In severe cases, the ailment can result in life-threatening complications, including nerve damage and heart failure.

Historically, diphtheria posed a significant public health threat, responsible for a high number of illnesses and fatalities, particularly in children. Thankfully, the introduction of diphtheria vaccines in the 1920s has made a considerable difference, resulting in a decrease in cases in numerous regions worldwide.

However, there are still regions where vaccination rates are low, making diphtheria a cause for concern. Those traveling to these areas may be at an increased risk of contracting the ailment, which highlights the importance of maintaining high vaccination rates and vigilantly monitoring and treating cases of diphtheria to prevent resurgence.


Definition of Diphtheria

Diphtheria is a bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae. It primarily affects the mucous membranes of the nose and throat, and can lead to the formation of a thick grayish membrane that can block the airways and cause breathing difficulties. In severe cases, diphtheria can also affect the heart and nervous system, leading to potentially life-threatening complications. Diphtheria is preventable through vaccination, but it remains a serious health threat in some parts of the world where vaccination rates are low.

Causes of Diphtheria

Diphtheria arises from the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae, which spreads through airborne droplets from an infected individual or tainted surfaces. The bacteria synthesizes a poisonous substance that harms the mucous layers of the nasal cavity and pharynx, thereby resulting in the distinctive thick, grayish membrane that obstructs the air passages and leads to respiration difficulties. In severe scenarios, the venom can penetrate the bloodstream and impact other organs, such as the heart and nervous system, which can give rise to possibly fatal complications.

Several elements may augment the risk of contracting diphtheria, such as:

Being unimmunized or partially immunized: Diphtheria is avertible through immunization; nevertheless, individuals who have not been inoculated or who have not obtained all recommended dosages of the vaccine are at an elevated risk of contracting the disease.

Residing in cramped or squalid conditions: Diphtheria is more frequent in areas with deficient hygiene practices, inadequate sanitation, and a high population density, where the bacteria can propagate with ease.

Journeying to regions with a high incidence of diphtheria: Diphtheria is more frequent in certain areas of the globe, including some developing nations, where immunization rates may be low and access to medical care may be restricted.

Transmission of the Disease Diphtheria

Diphtheria, an infectious disease, can be contracted via respiratory droplets from an infected individual or contaminated surfaces. The bacterium responsible for the ailment, known as Corynebacterium diphtheriae, produces a poisonous substance that injures the mucous membranes present in the nasal cavity and throat. This process could result in the creation of a thick, greyish covering that obstructs the respiratory passages and induces breathing difficulties. In severe scenarios, the toxin might spread across the circulatory system and damage other organs, causing life-threatening complications.

Symptoms of Diphtheria

  • Thick, gray membrane covering the throat and tonsils
  • Sore throat and hoarseness
  • Swollen glands (enlarged lymph nodes) in the neck
  • Difficulty breathing or rapid breathing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Fever and chills
  • Tiredness

It is important to note that some people with diphtheria may experience only mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, but can still spread the infection to others. These individuals are known as carriers of diphtheria. If you or someone you know experiences any of the above symptoms, particularly if a characteristic membrane is present in the throat, seek medical attention immediately.

Nursing Assessment of Diphtheria

Diphtheria, a bacterial infection that primarily targets the respiratory system, is a daunting illness that poses a significant threat to public health. With its highly contagious nature and the potential for life-threatening complications, a prompt and accurate diagnosis is essential. As a nurse, your integral role in the management of diphtheria cannot be overstated. A comprehensive nursing assessment can aid in detecting the infection's signs and symptoms, tracking the patient's vital signs, and identifying potential complications. In this article, we will delve into the details of the nursing assessment of diphtheria, equipping you with the knowledge and tools necessary to provide the highest level of care for your patients.

History Taking and Physical Examination

Upon commencing the nursing assessment of diphtheria, the primary measure is to acquire a comprehensive and elaborate history of the patient's symptoms, encompassing the time of onset, duration, and severity of the affliction. Such a procedure would enable the identification of the potential source of infection and ultimately facilitate the selection of a suitable course of treatment.

During the course of a physical examination, it is crucial to meticulously scrutinize the patient's respiratory function for any signs of distress, specifically focusing on cyanosis, dyspnea, and tachypnea. Moreover, a comprehensive inspection of the patient's oropharyngeal region must be performed with utmost care, seeking to identify the characteristic formation of a grayish-white membrane that envelops the tonsils and pharynx, which is a classical manifestation of diphtheria.

Upon conducting a physical examination, it is imperative to take note of additional indications such as pyrexia, enlarged lymph nodes, and cardiac arrhythmias. Such clinical manifestations may suggest that the pathogenic agent has disseminated to other anatomical sites.

Assessment of Respiratory Status

Diphtheria mainly impacts the respiratory system, making it essential to evaluate the patient's respiratory condition. It is important to keep a check on the patient's breathing rate, depth, and rhythm, as well as their oxygen saturation levels.

If the patient is grappling with respiratory complications, it may become necessary to furnish supplementary oxygen or lend aid to respiration. Additionally, one must be primed to administer exigent countermeasures such as intubation or tracheostomy, contingent upon the gravity of the situation.

Monitoring of Vital Signs

Monitoring a patient's vital signs is an imperative element of nursing appraisal for diphtheria. It is necessary to periodically determine the patient's blood pressure, pulse rate, body temperature, and respiratory rate.

Changes in key physiological indicators may indicate the progression of the infection or the emergence of complications, such as sepsis or cardiac involvement. Precognizing these alterations at an early stage may assist in initiating the appropriate interventions to preclude further deterioration.

Identification of Potential Complications

Diphtheria has the potential to elicit a diverse array of adverse effects such as impediments to airway passage, inflammation of the heart muscles, and damage to the peripheral nervous system. If you are employed as a nurse, it is essential to be knowledgeable about the indications and manifestations of these complications, and conduct diligent monitoring of the patient for their emergence.

If one harbors suspicions that the patient may be undergoing the development of untoward events, it is of paramount importance to urgently inform the healthcare provider. Intervening promptly may stave off the emergence of consequential complications and promote a better prognosis for the patient.

Nursing Diagnosis of Diphtheria

Nursing practitioners are integral to the management of diphtheria. A comprehensive nursing appraisal is imperative in identifying the diagnosis of diphtheria and devising suitable interventions. The nursing diagnosis for diphtheria comprises of the following:

Impaired airway clearance related to pharyngeal edema

The swelling of the throat, a prevalent complication of diphtheria, can result in pharyngeal edema, making it arduous for the patient to breathe. Monitoring the patient's respiration and air passage is critical to ensuring that they obtain sufficient oxygenation. Administering supplementary oxygen and positioning the patient to improve breathing are among the interventions that may be necessary.

Ineffective breathing pattern related to airway obstruction

Airway obstruction is a significant concern in patients with diphtheria. The patient may experience difficulty breathing and may require respiratory support to maintain adequate oxygenation. Nursing interventions may include suctioning the airway and administering medications to open the airway.

Risk for fluid volume deficit related to difficulty swallowing and refusal to eat

Fluid volume deficit is a pressing concern for patients exhibiting symptoms of diphtheria. These symptoms, such as difficulty swallowing and refusal to eat, can lead to dehydration and serious complications. It is imperative that nurses closely monitor their patients' fluid intake and output, and administer appropriate fluids as necessary to maintain hydration levels.

Risk for fluid volume deficit related to difficulty swallowing and refusal to eat

Infection prevention is also a top priority when dealing with diphtheria. This highly contagious bacterial infection can easily spread to others, so nurses must take stringent measures to prevent its transmission. This includes wearing personal protective equipment and isolating the patient as needed.

Anxiety related to difficulty breathing and fear of death

It's not just physical symptoms that can be worrisome for patients with diphtheria. Anxiety is a common emotional response to difficulty breathing and the fear of death that this disease can cause. Nurses play a vital role in providing emotional support and reassurance to patients and their loved ones during this challenging time. Medications can also be prescribed to help manage anxiety symptoms, as needed.

Planning and Implementation of Nursing Care for Diphtheria

Diphtheria, an ailment caused by the bacteria Corynebacterium diphtheriae, is a respiratory disease that is highly contagious. The malady is transferred through respiratory droplets, which can spread rapidly through proximity to infected individuals. Diphtheria can have severe ramifications such as airway obstruction, myocarditis, and neuropathy, which can lead to paralysis.

As a nurse, it is indispensable to have a well-rounded and comprehensive blueprint for managing diphtheria. This discourse aims to elaborate on the preparation and implementation of nursing care for diphtheria. It includes prompt handling of airway obstruction, administering diphtheria antitoxin and antibiotics, offering supportive care, keeping a close eye on vital signs, encouraging rest and hydration, as well as providing education and counseling to patients and their families regarding the prevention of transmission.

Immediate Management of Airway Obstruction

Airway impediment is an imperilous complication of diphtheritic ailment. The prompt management of respiratory blockage necessitates a comprehensive evaluation of the patient's air passages, and the application of pertinent interventions to ensure optimal respiration. A competent nursing staff should be skilled in handling airway management equipment, such as endotracheal tubes, laryngeal masks, and bag-valve masks, to guarantee the unimpeded flow of air and maintain appropriate oxygenation levels.

Administration of Diphtheria Antitoxin and Antibiotics

Diphtheria antitoxin is a remarkably effective antidote that counteracts the toxin produced by the Corynebacterium diphtheriae pathogen. The commencement of the administration of diphtheria antitoxin should be immediate upon diagnosis. The nursing team must have adeptness in the administration of diphtheria antitoxin, which includes recognition and appropriate management of any hypersensitivity reactions.

Antibiotics, such as penicillin and erythromycin, are also imperative in the treatment of diphtheria. Antibiotic medications should be administered for a minimum of 14 days to guarantee absolute eradication of the microorganism. The nursing staff must be proficient in administering antibiotics and have the skill to recognize and manage any antibiotic-related adverse reactions.

Provision of Supportive Care and Monitoring of Vital Signs

Supportive care plays a crucial role in the management of diphtheria, an acute bacterial infection caused by Corynebacterium diphtheriae. Patients afflicted with diphtheria may necessitate therapeutic interventions, such as oxygen therapy, fluid resuscitation, and electrolyte replacement, to ameliorate the adverse effects of the condition. Vigilant monitoring of the patient's vital signs, including respiratory rate, heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation, by the healthcare professionals is imperative to ensure optimal perfusion and oxygenation.

Promotion of Rest and Hydration

Patients who suffer from diphtheria require proper management through sufficient rest and hydration. Diphtheria causes significant fatigue and weakness, therefore, rest is paramount for a successful recovery. It is imperative to ensure adequate hydration to prevent the occurrence of dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. Nurses are advised to advocate for patients' rest and provide hydration, which may involve administering intravenous fluids if deemed necessary.

Education and Counseling of Patients and their Families on the Prevention of Transmission

Patients and their families necessitate comprehensive education and guidance regarding the avoidance of transmission of diphtheria to preclude the proliferation of the ailment. In order to impede the diffusion of the disease, nurses should apprise patients and their families about the significance of vaccination, proper hand sanitation, and respiratory cleanliness. Moreover, patients and their families should be counseled to refrain from close proximity to malaise individuals and advised to promptly pursue medical care in the event of diphtheria symptoms manifestation.

Evaluation of Nursing Care of Diphtheria

At the heart of any flourishing healthcare system lies proficient and effective nursing care. In relation to an ailment as severe and potentially lethal as diphtheria, punctual and top-quality nursing care can prove to be the decisive factor in determining a patient's prognosis. This piece aims to delve into the fundamental constituents of nursing care for diphtheria patients, which encompass the monitoring of the patient's response to treatment, the evaluation of complications, and the ongoing provision of education and counseling to patients and their kin.

Monitoring of the Patient’s Response to Treatment

Diphtheria patients require intensive nursing care, particularly in monitoring their response to treatment. Upon diagnosis, hospitalization should be initiated promptly, and the administration of diphtheria antitoxin and antibiotics should commence immediately. Vigilance is crucial throughout treatment, with nursing staff responsible for monitoring the patient's vital signs, such as their body temperature, pulse, and blood pressure, as well as keeping track of the patient's respiratory function, fluid and electrolyte balance, and urine output.

Nurses must also observe the patient's level of consciousness and responsiveness to stimuli, such as touch and pain. Any alterations in the patient's condition should be recorded and conveyed to the physician without delay. Additionally, it is imperative to be on the lookout for any adverse drug reactions, including gastrointestinal distress and allergic responses.

Assessment of Complications

Diphtheria is a grave ailment that can result in precarious implications if not attended to with meticulousness. Consequently, the evaluation of intricacies is an imperative component of nursing care for diphtheria sufferers. It is crucial to observe patients with meticulousness for manifestations of respiratory adversity, such as dyspnea, stridor, or cyanosis. Furthermore, any indications of cardiac entanglement, like anomalous heart pace or rhythm, ought to be detected and conveyed to the physician.

Other possible entanglements of diphtheria consist of renal insufficiency, nerve impairment, and palsy. Healthcare personnel ought to be alert to manifestations of these entanglements and take the suitable action, such as administering medications to control discomfort or providing supplementary support for daily activities.

Ongoing Education and Counseling of Patients and Their Families

Finally, nursing interventions for individuals affected by diphtheria ought to encompass persistent instruction and guidance for both the patients and their families. Dispensing information regarding the ailment, its transmission, and potential complications is imperative. Likewise, directing patients and their families on the implementation of preventative measures such as hand cleanliness, respiratory decorum, and isolation precautions is necessary.

Patients and their families should be motivated to communicate any uncertainties and concerns, and nursing personnel must extend empathetic support if deemed necessary. The patient may encounter an array of sentiments, comprising trepidation, apprehension, and melancholy, and nursing staff must be primed to implement adequate remedies to address these emotions.

Complications of Diphtheria

Diphtheria, an affliction that is infectious to a significant extent, is attributable to the bacterium known as Corynebacterium diphtheriae. The affliction manifests as the formation of a membrane that is grayish-white in coloration within the area of the throat. This membrane has the potential to cause obstructions within the airway and to initiate difficulties with the act of breathing. Although diphtheria is relatively uncommon within developed countries due to the wide-ranging dissemination of vaccines, it remains present within certain regions of the world. An essential component of any approach to this affliction is the awareness of the potential complications that it can generate. These complications are capable of generating severe and life-threatening symptoms.


Diphtheria is known to instigate myocarditis, a cardiac disorder that can induce arrhythmia or heart collapse. The exotoxin released by the causative agent of diphtheria assaults the heart muscle and instigates an inflammatory response. The onset of myocarditis may manifest after two to six weeks from the beginning of diphtheria and can be characterized by dyspnea, edema in the lower extremities, thoracic discomfort, and exhaustion.

Neurological Complications:

Neurological ramifications resulting from the affliction of diphtheria encompass peripheral neuropathy, cranial nerve palsies, and encephalitis. Peripheral neuropathy is an affliction of the nerves that can elicit a sensation of numbness, tingling, or feebleness in the appendages. Cranial nerve palsies can culminate in facial paralysis, articulation impediments, and dysphagia. Encephalitis, which is the inflammation of the brain, can prompt seizures, bewilderment, and a loss of consciousness. These potentialities may come to fruition during the two-to-four week window subsequent to the onset of diphtheria and can be debilitating and prolonged.

Respiratory Failure:

Diphtheria is a disease that can have dire consequences, one of which is respiratory failure. This catastrophic event can arise from either a blockage in the air passage or weakened respiratory muscles. The growth of a membrane in the throat can impede the airway, causing breathing difficulties. In critical situations, respiratory muscles can deteriorate, ultimately leading to respiratory failure. The manifestation of respiratory failure results in a reduction in the level of oxygen in the blood, which can cause the failure of vital organs and, in extreme cases, death.


Untreated diphtheria can culminate in fatality in as much as 20% of cases. Demise may transpire owing to critical respiratory insufficiency or cardiac complications akin to myocarditis. The propensity for mortality is greater among the juvenile populace and geriatric individuals.

Prevention of Diphtheria

At the outset of the 20th century, diphtheria was a leading cause of fatality in the United States. However, owing to the widespread inoculation and ameliorated hygiene practices, the ailment has become a rarity in the developed world. Yet, epidemics can still arise, specifically in areas where vaccination rates are low or sanitation is inadequate. This editorial will delve into the significance of immunization, sanitation measures, and segregation of contaminated individuals in forestalling the transmission of diphtheria.


The administration of an inoculation is the most potent method to prevent diphtheria. The vaccine, which is frequently administered as a component of a combo vaccine that safeguards against a number of other ailments, encloses inactive diphtheria poison. When the inoculation is injected, it stimulates an immune reaction that engenders antibodies to the poison, halting the progression of the disease.

In the United States of America, the diphtheria inoculation is suggested for all juvenile persons as part of the typical youth immunization plan. Those who have not been inoculated and who have an increased susceptibility to contracting the disease, such as healthcare practitioners or voyagers to regions where diphtheria is prevalent, should also receive the inoculation.

Proper Hygiene Practices

In addition to being vaccinated, it is paramount to maintain proper hygiene practices to thwart the propagation of diphtheria. The spread of this disease occurs through respiratory droplets; hence, it is crucial to cover your mouth and nose while coughing or sneezing. Besides, it is indispensable to wash your hands with soap and water frequently or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Furthermore, it is crucial to refrain from sharing personal belongings such as cups or utensils with others. If you are tending to someone suffering from diphtheria, make sure to wear a mask and gloves while disposing of contaminated items appropriately.

Isolation of Infected Individuals

If an individual is diagnosed with diphtheria, it is of the utmost importance to immediately seclude them to hinder the transmission of the illness. The infected person ought to be placed in an exclusive quarters with the portal obstructed, and those who enter the chambers must wear both a mask and gloves. Attendance must be restricted, and anyone who has been in close proximity to the infected person should be scrutinized for symptoms of the ailment.

Apart from isolating the contaminated individual, those who have come into close contact with them should be examined and provided with appropriate treatment. This category encompasses household members, healthcare practitioners, and anyone who has shared personal items with the infected person.

graph TD A[Understanding Diphtheria] B[Nursing Assessment] C[Nursing Diagnosis] D[Planning and Implementation of Nursing Care] E[Evaluation of Nursing Care] F[Complications of Diphtheria] G[Prevention of Diphtheria]A -->|Causes, Transmission, Symptoms| B B -->|History taking, Physical examination, Assessment of respiratory status| C C -->|Impaired airway clearance, Ineffective breathing pattern, Risk for fluid volume deficit, Risk for infection, Anxiety| D D -->|Immediate management of airway obstruction, Administration of diphtheria antitoxin and antibiotics, Supportive care, Promotion of rest and hydration, Education and counseling| E E -->|Monitoring patient's response, Assessment of complications, Ongoing education and counseling| F F -->|Myocarditis, Neurological complications, Respiratory failure, Death| G G -->|Vaccination, Proper hygiene practices, Isolation of infected individuals| A


Diphtheria stands as a grave bacterial affliction, necessitating timely detection and intervention. The stewardship of patients diagnosed with diphtheria and the curtailment of the ailment's dissemination are among the crucial duties allocated to nurses. With an appreciation of diphtheria's nursing diagnosis, its symptomatic manifestation, instigators, and remedial course of action, the medical professionals can dispense efficient therapeutic care, thus augmenting optimistic patient outcomes.

What is diphtheria?

Diphtheria is a bacterial infection that primarily affects the throat and nose. It is highly contagious and can be life-threatening if not promptly diagnosed and treated.

What are the symptoms of diphtheria?

Thick, gray membrane covering the throat and tonsils
Sore throat and hoarseness
Swollen glands (enlarged lymph nodes) in the neck
Difficulty breathing or rapid breathing
Nasal discharge
Fever and chills

How is diphtheria diagnosed?

Diphtheria is diagnosed through a physical examination, laboratory tests, and a culture of the bacteria from the affected area.

What is the treatment for diphtheria?

The treatment for diphtheria includes administration of diphtheria antitoxin and antibiotics, supportive care, and monitoring of vital signs.

How can diphtheria be prevented?

Diphtheria can be prevented through vaccination, proper hygiene practices, and isolation of infected individuals.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, January 27). Diphtheria. CDC.

I'm Deepak, an experienced nursing professional with a Master's degree in Medical Surgical Nursing. As the founder of nursing.in, I aim to share my knowledge and expertise in nursing by providing valuable insights and updates on the latest developments in the field. Stay informed and learn about new techniques and treatments through my blog.

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