Symptoms and Treatments of Whooping Cough

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a respiratory illness caused by a contagious bacteria. Whooping cough can cause complications in babies and children, but proper recognition of signs and symptoms and prompt treatment can help ensure a healthy outcome if your child does contract pertussis. Vaccinations against whooping cough are the most effective form of prevention, and oftentimes, if a properly vaccinated child does get pertussis, the severity and duration of the illness are markedly less.

Signs of whooping cough depend on what stage the disease is in, with early symptoms often mimicking cold-like symptoms such as a runny nose, mild cough and low grade fever. Babies who have whooping cough may also have a pause in their breathing, called apnea during the early stages of whooping cough. After one to two weeks, more severe, traditional symptoms of whooping cough will appear including fits of multiple rapid coughs that are followed by a ‘whoop’ sound. These coughing fits can cause exhaustion and vomiting. Babies with pertussis can also stop breathing and become cyanotic, where the skin becomes blue or purple from lack of oxygen. A sample of mucous from the back of the throat may be taken to confirm a diagnosis of whooping cough based on symptoms and physical examination.

If your child does contract whooping cough, early diagnosis and treatment is key to minimizing damage and recovering more quickly. If treated before coughing fits begin, the infection may be less serious than if the second stage of the disease has already taken effect. Whooping cough is treated most often with antibiotics, since it is caused by a bacterial infection. Coughing fits can last up to ten weeks, but treatment with antibiotics will both reduce symptoms and can also lessen the contagiousness of whooping cough, helping to protect those around the infected person.

If your child is diagnosed with whooping cough, in addition to administering antibiotics exactly as your doctor prescribes, it is important to lessen his or her exposure to irritants that can cause coughing fits such as smoke, dust and fumes, as well as keeping them hydrated. Using a cool mist vaporizer can also help to break up mucous and calm the cough.

If your baby or child has a severe case of whooping cough that requires hospitalization, they will be treated with antibiotics to control symptoms, but may also need oxygen and frequent suctioning of mucus. Dehydration can also be prevented or treated with the use of IV fluids. Vaccinating is the most effective way of preventing whooping cough. However, when whooping cough is suspected, a thorough examination and early treatment are key to a positive outcome.