Whooping cough: Know common signs and how to prevent it

Whooping cough is a respiratory infection that may cause bouts of coughing. It can be treated with medication and prevented with vaccine.
Woman suffering whooping cough
Whooping cough can be prevented. Image courtesy: Freepik
Purvi Kalra Published: 14 Apr 2024, 20:00 pm IST
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Whooping cough, which is also called pertussis, is a contagious respiratory infection that can cause coughing fits. In grave circumstances, the coughing symptoms can aggravate, becoming rapid and violent. Just like the name suggests, when you catch this disease, you tend to make a whopping noise which comes when you try to breathe in air after coughing.

Why does a whopping cough happen?

Whooping cough is caused by a bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. It can spread from person to person. People suffering from it cause its spread through coughing, sneezing or breathing in proximity to someone. At times, it can spread even by touching an infected surface and then touching your nose or mouth, explains consultant pulmonologist Dr Kinjal Modi.

Whooping cough
Whooping cough can affect you and your child. Get to know everything about it here!

What are the symptoms of whooping cough?

This disease affects babies younger than 6 months old who are not fully guarded by immunizations, kids from the age group of 11 to 18 years old and adults, whose immunity has started to fade. The symptoms of a whopping cough kickstart within 5 to 10 days after you get exposed. In certain cases, symptoms don’t even show until up to 3 weeks later.

Whooping cough usually starts with cold-like symptoms. They may last for 1 to 2 weeks and can include signs like:

• Runny nose
• Mild fever
• A mild, occasional cough
• Red, watery eyes

“As a week or two pass, signs of a whopping cough can aggravate, and some of those worse symptoms include fits of many, rapid coughs followed by a high-pitched ‘whoop’ sound, vomiting during or after coughing fits, and feelings of weariness after coughing,” says the expert.

Diagnosis of whopping cough

There is a need for a careful medical history and tests to diagnose whopping cough:

• Checking the medical history, which includes questioning about your symptoms
• A physical exam
• A lab test in which a sample of mucus is taken from the back of the throat through the nose. This test can be performed using a swab or syringe with saline. This sample is then tested for bacteria that cause a whopping cough.
• Blood test
• Chest x-ray

How to treat of whopping cough?

The treatment for whooping cough is usually antibiotics. Early treatment is very important. It may help curb the seriousness of the infection and can also aid in preventing the spread of the disease to others.

Whooping cough can occasionally be very serious and require treatment in the hospital, especially babies and younger children are more likely to be hospitalized because they’re at greater risk for problems like pneumonia. Other possible problems include issues with normal breathing, bouts of apnea, needing oxygen (particularly during a coughing spell), and dehydration, tells the expert.

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Also read: World Immunization Week: 11 common questions about child vaccination


Whooping cough is a vaccine-preventable disease. It can be prevented with the pertussis vaccine, which is part of the DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis) immunization.

DTaP immunizations are routinely given in 5 doses: At the age of 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15–18 months and 4–6 years.

A vaccine called Tdap (the booster shot) should be given at the ages 11 to 12, and to older teens and adults who haven’t yet had a booster with pertussis coverage. This is of even more importance to adults who stay in proximity to newborn babies’ grandparents or other caregivers. It is also advisable that pregnant women should get the Tdap vaccine in the second half of each pregnancy, even if they have been vaccinated in the past, says Dr Kinjal Modi.

whooping cough
Everything you need to know about whooping cough here!

Prevention of whopping cough

The following measures may help to prevent the spread of whooping cough:

1. Washing your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.
2. Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
3. Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that you frequently touch, including toys.
4. Cover your mouth while coughing or sneezing with a tissue or upper shirt sleeve, not your hands.
5. Staying home when sick.
6. Try avoiding being around sick people.
7. Use of N 95 mask.

Also read: Vaccines during pregnancy: Know why they are important for the mother and the baby

When to see a doctor?

You need to seek medical help if prolonged cough spells cause you or your child to:

• Vomit
• Turn red or blue
• Seem to struggle with breathing or have noticeable pauses in breathing
• Inhale while making a whopping sound

Risk factors associated with whooping cough

Teens and adults tend to recover faster from whooping cough without facing any issues. As complications start showing up, certain side effects of strenuous coughing include:

• Cracked ribs
• Abdominal hernias
• Broken blood vessels in the skin or the whites of your eyes

However, in infants (those under the age of 6 months), complications associated with whooping cough can be more severe and include:

• Pneumonia
• Slow breathing
• Dehydration
• Seizures
• Damage to brain

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About the Author

After testing her skill-set in the field of management and marketing, Purvi Kalra is exploring the world of turning thoughts to words. Her penchant for writing stems for being an avid reader all her life. Her work drives her to be better every day. ...Read More

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