5 Ways to Identify Whooping Cough

May 7th 2016

Most cases of whooping cough are not a reason for concern, but individuals who experience vomiting, difficulty breathing or a "whooping" sound when they inhale should seek emergency medical attention. Infants and nonvaccinated children who may have whooping cough should see a physician immediately.

A Cough That Ends With a "Whoop"

The condition is named for the high-pitched "whoop" sound often heard at the end of a cough. This classic identifying symptom is only evident in about 20 to 40 percent of all adolescent and adult cases of whooping cough; the symptom does not appear until about three weeks after the initial infection. When the sound does occur, it is usually apparent during the first breath of air after a cough.

Common Cold Symptoms That Worsen Instead of Improving

A person usually shows no signs of whooping cough for at least a week after the initial infection. Within seven to 10 days, symptoms of a common cold may appear. A runny nose, nasal congestion and a minor cough are common. Red, watery eyes and a low fever may also occur. Instead of improving like a common cold, these symptoms usually worsen one or two weeks later. An individual with whooping cough may experience some, all or none of these symptoms.

Thick Mucus That May Affect Breathing

By the second or third week after the initial infection, most individuals begin producing an excessive amount of thick mucus. This mucus builds up in the airways and the body reacts with uncontrollable, prolonged periods of coughing. A person may cough so hard he struggles to breathe and his face turns red or blue. Breathing difficulties, regardless of the cause, require immediate medical attention.

Coughing Spells That Induce Vomiting

In some individuals, the cough associated with whooping cough does not interfere with breathing, but it may be so forceful and continuous it causes vomiting. Prolonged and excessive vomiting often results in dehydration and may cause additional harm. If you or a loved one experiences coughing that causes vomiting, contact your physician, even if no other symptoms exist.

A Persistent Cough That Lasts Two Months or Longer

Many adolescents and adults who have whooping cough only complain of a persistent, long-lasting cough. It is typically an annoying, hacking cough that may be accompanied by mucus. This cough usually lasts at least two to three months and may last longer. Whooping cough may be misdiagnosed as bronchitis or asthma.


Whooping cough is a respiratory tract infection that most commonly affects older children and adults due to a series of immunizations administered during infancy. The infection may be fatal during early childhood but usually poses no threats to adolescents and adults. However, diagnosing whooping cough is not always easy.

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