What Are the 3 Stages of Whooping Cough?

Medically Reviewed on 10/14/2022

3 stages of whooping cough

3 Stages of Whooping Cough
The treatment of whooping cough depends on various factors, such as the stage and symptoms.

Whooping cough is also called pertussis. Whooping cough is primarily seen in children, but adults can be affected by the illness.

The three-stage of whooping cough include:

  1. Stage I: Catarrhal
  2. Stage II: Paroxysmal
  3. Stage III: Convalescent

What is whooping cough?

Whooping cough is a bacterial respiratory illness caused by the bacterium called Bordetella pertussis. It lasts a few weeks to months, hence is called a “100-day” cough.

Whooping cough is highly contagious.

Bordetella pertussis can quickly spread from one person to another. Once bacteria enter the airway, it causes swelling and mucus accumulation in the airway.

Signs and symptoms of whooping cough

The symptoms usually start as a common cold, runny nose, sneezing cough, and fever. It may be difficult for the child to eat, drink or breathe during coughing. Whooping cough could be severe in one-year-old or younger children. In some cases, whooping cough may be fatal.

  • Stage I: Catarrhal: This stage lasts for one to two weeks. This stage is highly contagious.
    • Fever
    • Mild cough, which becomes severe in later stages
    • Difficulty breathing in infants
    • Runny nose
  • Stage II: Paroxysmal: This stage lasts for 6 to 10 weeks after the initial infection.
    • Severe coughing spells are seen
    • Between coughing spells, the child may gasp for breath, drool, and become teary-eyed
    • When the cough is severe, it is followed by vomiting and exhaustion
    • Cyanosis
    • Increased paroxysmal (episodic) attacks, especially when they are triggered in the nighttime
    • The frequency of attacks remains the same for the first two weeks and then gradually decreases
  • Stage III: Convalescent:
    • At this stage, the cough will get decrease
    • No longer contagious
    • Followed by various other respiratory infections

What are the complications of whooping cough?

Complications of whooping cough are more severe in children than in adults.

Complications usually occur due to long-term coughing, such as:

  • A subconjunctival hemorrhage (bleeding in the conjunctiva due to a severe cough, which increases pressure in the eye)
  • An abdominal hernia (caused by the contraction of abdominal muscles used during coughing causes abdominal pressure, which can move the abdominal organs through the membranes into the abdomen)
  • Urinary incontinence (due to severe coughing, there will be increased pressure in the pelvic floor muscles, which results in the expelling of urine)
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Weight loss
  • Pneumonia


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How is whooping cough diagnosed?

Diagnosis of whooping cough in the initial stages is crucial to prevent further symptoms and the spread of infection from infected individuals to healthy individuals.

Your doctor will do a physical examination and ask for the symptoms. The diagnosis is made mainly based on a severe cough that lasts more than two weeks.

A few other laboratory tests are done to diagnose whooping cough are:

  • Respiratory culture test: The mucus secretions are swabbed and cultured to detect the presence of Bordetella pertussis bacteria during the first two weeks of cough.
  • Polymerase chain reaction: Along with the swab test, the polymerase chain reaction test is done if there is a severe cough for more than two weeks.
  • Serological tests: Detect antibodies, the body's natural defense mechanism against the bacteria that cause infection. This test is done if the cough is present for more than four weeks.

What is the treatment of whooping cough?

The treatment of whooping cough depends on various factors, such as age, the severity of the symptoms, and the child's overall well-being.

The child may need to go to the hospital for treatment in a few cases for supportive care and continuous monitoring.

Sometimes, the child may need oxygen and intravenous fluids until the child starts to recover.

Some children may require antibiotics; these antibiotics may not help the child to get better faster but will prevent the spread of infection to others.

Antibiotics are prescribed to people who were in close contact with the infected person.

Five home remedies for whooping cough

  1. If the child is treated at home, follow the schedule of antibiotics strictly
  2. Keep your child comfortably warm
  3. Feed your child small meals very often
  4. Give plenty of fluids
  5. Prevent the things that cause cough

4 ways to prevent whooping cough

  1. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends five diphtheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis (DTaP) shots in children for maximum protection from Bordetella pertussis.
  2. DTaP shots are administered to prevent diphtheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis.
  3. Is essential to administer a DTaP booster at ages 11 to 12 years.
  4. In adults, a DTaP booster is recommended every 10 years.
Medically Reviewed on 10/14/2022
Image Source: iStock image

Whooping Cough (Pertussis) in Children. https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=whooping-cough-pertussis-in-children-90-P02533

Pertussis (Whooping Cough). https://www.cdc.gov/pertussis/clinical/features.html

Whooping cough. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/whooping-cough/symptoms-causes/syc-20378973