What Is whooping cough?

Whooping cough is a bacterial infection that causes severe coughing and trouble breathing. A course of antibiotics is used to treat the infection along with home treatment consisting of using a humidifier, drinking plenty of fluids, soups, juices, etc. to prevent dehydration.
Whooping cough is a bacterial infection that causes severe coughing and trouble breathing. A course of antibiotics is used to treat the infection along with home treatment consisting of using a humidifier, drinking plenty of fluids, soups, juices, etc. to prevent dehydration.

Whooping cough is a bacterial infection that causes severe coughing and trouble breathing. The illness is preventable through immunization. However, the vaccine may wear out after 5 to 10 years, putting anyone at risk of infection. 

In modern times, doctors are able to prevent whooping cough by encouraging vaccination. Before a vaccine was available, the disease was a major cause of childhood deaths. 

Whooping cough, also called pertussis, is a very contagious disease that mainly affects infants and young children. It is caused by a bacterium called Bordetella pertussis. Pertussis is characterized by coughing that ends with a characteristic "whoop" as air is inhaled.

Symptoms of whooping cough

Whooping cough starts like the common cold, with sneezing, a runny nose, or congestion. Sometimes you may notice a mild cough or fever. A severe cough begins after a week or two.

The period between initial infection and when whooping cough is observable is about 5 to 10 days. In some cases, however, symptoms may not appear for as long as 3 weeks.

The most common symptoms of whooping cough include: 

  • Coughing, violently and rapidly, until all the air has left the lungs and a person is forced to inhale, causing a "whooping" sound
  • Sneezing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Fever
  • Sore, watery eyes
  • Lips, tongue, and nail beds turning blue during coughing spells

Pertussis may last up to 10 weeks and can lead to other complications like pneumonia. Since the symptoms of whooping cough can look like other medical conditions, it is always wise to consult your doctor to know if you have the disease.

Causes of whooping cough

You can get whooping cough if a person who has it sneezes, laughs, or coughs close to you. This happens when small droplets that contain this bacteria fly through the air and you breathe them in. 

Once the Bordetella pertussis bacteria get into your airways, they attach to the tiny hairs in the linings of the lungs. The bacteria then causes swelling and inflammation that leads to a dry, long-lasting cough and other cold-like symptoms.

Although pertussis is easily spread from one person to another, children and adults who are at risk can prevent it with vaccination. This vaccine is commonly referred to as the DTaP. It is also effective in protecting against diphtheria and tetanus.

Adults may develop whooping cough as their immunity from vaccines wears off over time.

Tests for whooping cough

Your doctor will know if you have the diseases by determining if you have been exposed to it. This is made possible by doing a:

  • History of typical signs and symptoms
  • Physical examination
  • Laboratory test which involves taking a sample of mucus (with a swab or syringe filled with saline) from the back of the throat through the nose
  • Blood test

It's better to get tested in the first stage when the infection is most treatable.

SLIDESHOW

Bacterial Infections 101: Types, Symptoms, and Treatments See Slideshow

Treatments for whooping cough

Since whooping cough can be very serious, it is necessary to get treated in the hospital. 

Medications

The primary course of treatment is antibiotics as the infection is caused by bacteria. Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics if your case is just in its early stages. You could also use them in the late stages of the infection to prevent it from spreading to others.

Such drugs include:

If the infection is resistant to treatment with any of these, other antibiotics like trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole may be prescribed. Your doctor may also want to treat other close contacts with the same antibiotics regardless of whether they are immunized. While these medicines can help treat the infection, they don’t prevent or treat the coughing. 

It is not advisable to use cough medicines if you suspect a case of pertussis as they don’t have any effect on the infection and may cause harmful side effects on children. 

Home care

Your doctor may suggest using a humidifier in your child’s bedroom to keep the air moist and help improve symptoms of whooping cough. Other supportive remedies include drinking plenty of fluids, soups, juices, etc. to prevent dehydration. Taking small and frequent meals may help to prevent vomiting.

You should free your home of irritants like smoke, dust, and fumes that can lead to coughing.

Possible complications

People with pertussis are infectious from the beginning of the catarrhal stage. This is when you have a runny nose, sneezing, low-grade fever, among other symptoms of the common cold

You may remain infectious through the third week after the onset of paroxysms or multiple rapid coughs. Make sure to protect those close to you until 5 days after the start of treatment.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Medically Reviewed on 2/10/2021
References
AboutKidsHealth: "Pertussis (whooping cough)."

Canadian Medical Association Journal: "Diagnosis and management of pertussis."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Pertussis (Whooping Cough)."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Pertussis (Whooping Cough): Treatment."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Whooping Cough Vaccination."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Whooping Cough (Pertussis) in Adults."

KidsHealth: "Whooping Cough (Pertussis)."

National Organization for Rare Disorders: "Pertussis."

Nationwide Children's: "Pertussis (Whooping Cough)."

The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia: "Pertussis (Whooping Cough)."