What is whooping cough?

Whooping Cough

Whooping cough (pertussis): Overview

Whooping cough (also called pertussis) is a disease that causes severe coughing. You may also have symptoms that are similar to those of a common cold, such as a cough, a runny nose, and a fever.

You may have a cough for weeks or even months. A coughing spell may last a long time. You may feel very tired in between coughing spells.

Your doctor may give you antibiotics to control the spread of the bacteria. But even with the antibiotics, you may keep coughing.

This disease can spread quickly from person to person. You can prevent or decrease the severity of whooping cough in your family by keeping their immunizations up to date.

Whooping cough

Whooping cough (pertussis) is a bacterial infection that causes severe coughing spells. Whooping cough can spread quickly from person to person.

Early symptoms of whooping cough are similar to those of a common cold and can last for 1 to 2 weeks. Symptoms may include:

  • A runny nose.
  • A fever.
  • A mild cough.
  • Apnea in babies. This is a slight pause in breathing.

Later-stage symptoms happen after 1 or 2 weeks and can last for 10 weeks or more. Symptoms include:

  • Fits of coughing that are rapid and are followed by a "whoop" sound.
  • Vomiting during or after coughing fits.
  • Exhaustion after coughing fits.

Recovery from whooping cough can happen slowly. The cough becomes milder and happens less often. Coughing fits can still happen with other respiratory infections.

Although whooping cough can occur at any age, it is of greatest concern in babies and older adults. The disease can be prevented with pertussis vaccines.

What are the symptoms of whooping cough?

Early symptoms of whooping cough are similar to those of a common cold. Symptoms include a runny nose, a fever, and a cough. Then you get spells of rapid coughing. Coughing spells may cause you to throw up and be very tired.

How is whooping cough treated?

Whooping cough is often treated with antibiotics. These medicines make it less likely that you will spread the disease. Babies are often treated in the hospital. This allows the doctor to see how well the baby copes with coughing spells. The baby can also get extra care, such as help with breathing.

How is whooping cough diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and do a physical exam. They may take a sample of mucus from your nose to have it tested for the bacteria that cause whooping cough. You may also have blood tests. A chest X-ray may be done to check for other health problems.

How can you care for yourself when you have whooping cough?

  • Take your antibiotics as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Stay away from possible triggers of coughing, such as smoke, dust, sudden noises or lights, and changes in temperature.
  • Have frequent, small sips of fluids and nutritious foods.
  • Create a calm, quiet, restful place for yourself.
  • Lie on your side or stomach instead of your back.

What causes whooping cough?

Whooping cough is caused by bacteria that infect the top of the throat (pharynx). The bacteria irritate the throat, which causes coughing.

When someone with whooping cough coughs, sneezes, or laughs, tiny drops of fluid holding the bacteria are put into the air. The bacteria can infect others when people breathe in the drops or get them on their hands and touch their mouth or nose. After the bacteria infect someone, symptoms usually appear about 5 to 10 days later. Sometimes it may be up to 3 weeks before symptoms appear.

What is whooping cough?

Whooping cough (pertussis) is a disease that causes severe coughing that may last for months. During a coughing spell, you may make a noise that sounds like a "whoop" when you try to take a breath. You can cough so hard that you hurt a rib.

Whooping cough (pertussis): When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have severe trouble breathing.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or worse trouble breathing.
  • You cough up dark brown or bloody mucus (sputum).
  • You have a new or higher fever.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better after 2 weeks.
  • Your cough gets worse.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.