What Is whooping cough?
Whooping cough is also called pertussis. It is a highly contagious cough condition caused by bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. It is named for the “whoop” sound that is made when coughing.
Whooping cough is not a major concern for adults. It can be fatal to infants and children who haven’t yet received their pertussis vaccine.
Signs and symptoms of whooping cough in adults
Whooping cough symptoms in adults present as the common cold during the incubation period, which typically lasts from one week to 10 days.
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:
Acute Bronchitis: This is inflammation of the bronchi and bronchial tubes. A bronchitis cough may be persistent. It won’t cause the whooping sound that pertussis does.
Influenza: Since the flu is viral instead of bacterial, an antibiotic won’t help with your symptoms.
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.
Pertussis is treated as part of the Tdap shot, which also treats tetanus and diphtheria.
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)."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Tdap VIS."
National Organization for Rare Disorders: "Pertussis."
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benzonatateBenzonatate is an oral medication prescribed to suppress cough. Benzonatate begins to work on suppressing a person's cough within 15 to 20 minutes. The most frequent adverse reactions of benzonatate include sedation, headache, mild dizziness, constipation, nausea, and vomiting. Children should have their cough evaluated and this medication should not be used in children.
camphorCamphor is an aromatic flammable substance originally distilled from the bark and wood of the camphor tree, Cinnamomum camphora, used as an active ingredient in ointments, camphorated oils and gels, which are topically applied on the skin to relieve local itching (pruritus) or pain, applied on the chest or throat to relieve cough and congestion, or added to steam inhalations to relieve cough. Handle with care and keep away from flame or fire. Consult with your doctor if pregnant or breastfeeding.
Chronic CoughChronic cough is a cough that does not go away and is generally a symptom of another disorder such as asthma, allergic rhinitis, sinus infection, cigarette smoking, GERD, postnasal drip, bronchitis, pneumonia, medications, and less frequently tumors or other lung disease.
Chronic cough treatment is based on the cause, but may be soothed natural and home remedies.
epinephrine racemicEpinephrine racemic is an inhaled medication available over-the-counter and used for temporary relief of symptoms associated with bronchial asthma in adults and children, and to treat pediatric croup, an upper respiratory tract viral infection that obstructs the airway. Common side effects of epinephrine racemic include headache, nausea, sweating, restlessness, tremor, rebound airway swelling (edema), pulmonary edema, and overreaction of the autonomic nervous system (autonomic hyperreflexia). Use with caution in pregnant and breastfeeding women.
erythromycinErythromycin is an antibiotic prescribed to treat a variety of infections. The most frequent side effects of erythromycin are nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Consult with your doctor about any medications or supplements you may be taking and if there is potential for drug interactions with erythromycin. Check with your doctor before taking erythromycin if pregnant or breastfeeding.
guaifenesin and dextromethorphan hydrobromideGuaifenesin and dextromethorphan hydrobromide is an OTC used to temporarily relieve cough due to minor bronchial and throat irritation associated with the common cold. Side effects of guaifenesin and dextromethorphan are nausea, vomiting, constipation, drowsiness, and dizziness. Consult your doctor before taking if pregnant or breastfeeding.
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