Posted on February 08, 2019

Category: Signs and Symptoms

Pertussis, often referred to as “whooping cough,” is a severe, but easily preventable, bacterial infection of the upper respiratory system. The infection is extremely contagious, spreading from person to person through coughing and sneezing. While there are limited treatment options available once whooping cough has been contracted, children and adults who have been vaccinated have a substantially lower risk of being impacted by the disease.


One of the troubling things about whooping cough is that symptoms generally do not occur until 7-10 days after patients are infected. Symptoms often start mild and worsen over time, initially resembling the symptoms of a cold, including:

When the symptoms worsen, mucus often builds up in the lungs, causing coughing to become uncontrollable. This can ultimately lead to vomiting, changes in facial color and a “whooping” sound once patients are finally able to inhale. Contrary to popular belief, this stereotypical “whooping” sound is not present in all patients, especially infants who may not cough at all—often struggling to breathe.


Because whooping cough is a bacterial infection, there aren’t many treatments available. If the infection is caught early enough, doctors can slow its progression with the use of antibiotics but—due to its delayed symptoms—whooping cough is rarely caught early enough for antibiotics to be effective.


The most common complications from whooping cough often occur as a result of the persistent and extremely strenuous coughing brought about by the infection. These complications include damage to the ribs, abdominal hernias and broken blood vessels in and around the eyes.


The best way to avoid whooping cough is to ensure that you and the ones you love are vaccinated. The vaccine for whooping cough is regularly combined with vaccines for diphtheria and tetanus. In children, this vaccine is referred to as the “DTaP” vaccine and, in adults, it is referred to as the “Tdap” vaccine.

The best time to get vaccinated for whooping cough is in infancy, as complications from whooping cough can be life-threating for children—especially those younger than 6 months.

When to See a Doctor

If you suspect that you or your child are experiencing symptoms of whooping cough, stop by our walk-in clinic. Whooping cough can cause apnea—a temporary stopping of breathing—in infants. Contact a healthcare provider immediately if a baby is gasping for breath. If your child’s coughing fits lead to vomiting, change in face color, difficulty or pauses in breathing, high fever, dehydration or seizures, call 911 and go to the emergency room.