What Is whooping cough?
Signs and symptoms of whooping cough in adults
This initial stage of the illness is called the catarrhal stage. You usually have a low-grade fever, mild cough, and runny nose. In the first couple of weeks, you usually won’t know that you have whooping cough because its symptoms are so mild.
As whooping cough persists, your cough gets increasingly worse. Now you enter the paroxysmal stage.
You have coughing fits that end in the common whoop sound. This sound is the clearest sign that you have whooping cough. You may vomit during these coughing fits or feel exhausted afterward.
You are contagious for two to three weeks during this stage of the illness. The reason that Pertussis causes a unique cough is that you cough rapidly until there is no air left in your lungs. This causes a shortness of breath.
When there is a break in coughing and you inhale, you hear the whooping sound.
The final, or convalescent, stage of whooping cough begins about four weeks after the onset of your symptoms. The recovery from whooping cough is slow and can last for weeks.
In countries without adequate medical care, whooping cough is known as the 100-day cough because its symptoms are so long-lasting.
Causes of whooping cough in adults
Pertussis is caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis. It is highly contagious and spreads through the air through the tiny droplets that spray when an infected person coughs.
Once you are infected with whooping cough, you are contagious for two to three weeks, making it easy to spread the bacteria to others.
Diagnosis for whooping cough in adults
Only a licensed healthcare professional can diagnose whooping cough.
Your doctor will complete a physical exam to assess your symptoms. A nasal swab will confirm your diagnosis by testing for the bacteria that causes whooping cough.
Since whooping cough looks like the common cold at first, your doctor may suggest you rest and take over-the-counter (OTC) medication to treat your symptoms. If your cough worsens, call your doctor again for further examination.
Additional lab work will confirm or rule out other medical conditions affecting your upper respiratory tract. In some cases, you may have one these illnesses in addition to whooping cough:
Bordetella parapertussis and Bordetella bronchiseptica: These two bacteria are very similar to pertussis and cause similar symptoms.
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Treatments for whooping cough
Your doctor will assess your overall health and the severity of your symptoms before creating a treatment plan. Other medical conditions or medications have an impact on what your doctor can prescribe to treat whooping cough.
Antibiotics are the best way to kill the bacteria that causes whooping cough. This is especially true if they are given within three weeks of the onset of your symptoms.
It is common with whooping cough for your symptoms to continue for a long time. At the least, an antibiotic will ensure that you are no longer contagious. This only takes five days after beginning your treatment.
At home treatment
You can take measures at home to speed up your healing process:
- Stay warm
- Eat small, frequent meals
- Drink a lot of water
- Treat your symptoms with OTC medication
It is also important to avoid activities that activate your cough.
Talk as little as possible and stay away from irritants like smoke and chemicals. Don’t get stressed or excited or you may trigger a coughing fit. If your lungs don’t rest and heal, you can cause lasting damage to your body.
While infants and young children are more frequently hospitalized for whooping cough, some adults can also experience severe cases.
In the hospital your treatment will likely include:
- Intravenous (IV) therapy to replace fluids
- Suctioning of your throat and lungs to remove excessive mucus buildup
- Oxygen to allow your lungs to rest instead of working harder to oxygenate your body
Even if you’ve already contracted whooping cough, it is important to get the vaccine.
Infants and young children under 7 cannot receive the vaccine. You can get the Tdap vaccine, because it helps protect those most at-risk for dangerous symptoms.
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Pertussis (Whooping Cough)."
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