Signs Of Whooping Cough To Watch Out For

By Ashley Henshaw. May 7th 2016

Amid recent outbreaks of whooping cough, more and more people are interested in finding out how this disease is spread and what kinds of symptoms it can cause. In this article, we’ll discuss the signs that may indicate you or a loved one has whooping cough, and how to proceed from there.

What Is Whooping Cough?

Whooping cough is the more commonly used name for pertussis, a serious respiratory tract infection that is characterized by severe coughing and hacking as well as a “whoop” noise when trying to inhale. It was once responsible for thousands of deaths in the United States every year. Since the introduction of a vaccine, however, it is estimated that about 10 people die of whooping cough each year.

One of the main issues with whooping cough is that it is highly contagious. It’s spread through bacteria, so when someone sneezes or coughs, their germs are sprayed into the air. Anyone in the immediate vicinity can breathe in these infected vapors and become infected themselves.

Signs Of Whooping Cough

The key to keeping whooping cough from causing serious health complications is to know the signs to watch for. Unfortunately, whooping cough can be tough to catch early on because, in most cases, no symptoms appear until about one to three weeks after someone has been infected. Further complicating the matter is the fact that the initial symptoms are often confused with those of the common cold.

The initial signs of whooping cough that appear one to three weeks after infection include:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Dry cough
  • Mild fever

Many people don’t realize they have whooping cough during this phase of the illness. However, about a week or two after the initial signs listed above appear, the symptoms worsen considerably to include the following:

  • Thick mucus settling in the airways
  • Uncontrollable, hacking cough
  • Severe and/or prolonged coughing episodes, some of which may lead to extreme fatigue, vomiting or becoming red or blue in the face
  • A high-pitched “whoop” noise when trying to breathe in
  • Coughing spells which become more common and more severe as the illness continues
  • Coughing spells gradually occurring more often at night

Oddly, many people with whooping cough feel generally fine in between their coughing spells. In addition, it’s important to note that not all people with pertussis develop the characteristic “whoop” noise when breathing in. Adults and teens in particular are more likely to have milder symptoms. Some only have the severe coughing episodes to signal that they may have the disease.


A doctor should be contacted as soon as possible if you think that you or your child is showing signs of whooping cough. It’s especially important to seek medical attention right away if you suspect that an infant might have whooping cough as this condition may cause pneumonia or even death. Some infants and children have to be hospitalized due to whooping cough – infants in particular require constant supervision while they have this infection.

In most cases, antibiotics are the main treatment for whooping cough. Cool-mist vaporizers can also be used to soothe irritated lungs and loosen respiratory secretions, and consuming lots of fluids is encouraged. Older children, teens and adults can usually be treated at home for pertussis.

Anyone with whooping cough or caring for someone with whooping cough should vigilant about watching for any complications associated with the illness. Any of the following symptoms are cause for immediate medical attention:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Signs of dehydration
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Bluish skin color
  • Apnea (periods of stopped breathing)
  • High fever
  • Seizures or convulsions

Recent Outbreaks

Concerns have risen in light of recent whooping cough outbreaks. The increased number of whooping cough cases is thought to be possibly caused by whooping cough vaccines that are wearing-off prematurely. A switch to a new vaccine formula in 1997 also has many questioning whether this new vaccine is as effective since many of the 2012 pertussis outbreak cases are occurring in 13- and 14-year-olds.

The signs and symptoms of the illness are no different in this outbreak than in any other cases before. However, adults are encouraged to actively seek vaccination if they have not been vaccinated already. In addition, those who are around infants (child care workers, pregnant women, new grandparents, etc.) are encouraged to get a booster shot.

The signs of whooping cough are fairly consistent across different cases, but the complication with this illness is that the symptoms that indicate a person has been infected occur several weeks after the initial infection. Therefore, the best way to protect against this illness is to get vaccinated or receive your booster shot. Contact your doctor to find out if you can receive a pertussis booster shot or to find out if you’ve been vaccinated if you’re not sure.


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