Whooping Cough: Definition, Types, Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment and More


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention whooping cough is a very contagious infection that affects the breathing system. Many people with whooping cough have a severe cough that sounds like “whoop” when they breathe in deeply. In the past, whooping cough was mostly seen in children before the vaccine was available. Now, it mostly affects children who haven’t finished vaccinations and teenagers or adults whose immunity has weakened. Deaths from whooping cough are rare, but they usually happen in babies. That’s why it’s crucial for pregnant women, and others who will be close to a baby, to get vaccinated against whooping cough.

What is Whooping Cough?

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a severe bacterial infection of the lungs and breathing tubes. It spreads easily and starts with symptoms similar to a cold but progresses to severe coughing and gasping for air. Prolonged coughing spells may lead to vomiting and broken blood vessels in the eyes and on the skin.

What are the Types of Whooping Cough?

There are two types of whooping cough. Such as:

Dry Whooping Cough:

Dry whooping cough often occurs after respiratory illnesses like colds and the flu. They happen when there’s little or no mucus in the throat, leading to a persistent tickling sensation and uncontrollable coughing. Usually, these coughs resolve on their own. However, if a cough persistent for an extended period, it’s essential to explore other potential causes, such as:

To alleviate the tickling sensation of a dry cough, individuals can try drinking water, using cough drops, or taking cough syrup.

Wet Whooping Cough:

People might refer to a wet cough as a chesty cough. It happens when someone coughs up mucus or phlegm, usually due to an infection like the flu, common cold, or a chest infection. During a chest infection, a person might cough up phlegm with small amounts or bright red blood from the lungs, which is usually not a cause for concern. However, if the blood is dark and contains food or coffee ground-like substances, it’s essential to seek medical help. Some wet coughs can persist over time and may be caused by:

  • Bronchiectasis
  • Pneumonia
  • Nontuberculous mycobacteria infection
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Staying hydrated can help keep a wet cough productive and alleviate cold symptoms. Some people also find relief from over-the-counter (OTC) cough remedies like cough drops, chest rubs, and pain relievers. If a bacterial infection is the cause of the cough, antibiotics may be necessary.

What are the Symptoms of Whooping Cough?

Once you catch whooping cough, it takes about seven to ten days for symptoms to show up, but it can sometimes take longer. At first, the symptoms are mild and similar to a common cold, this type of severe cough can also cause:

  • Vomiting
  • Blocked nose
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Watery eyes
  • Diarrhea
  • Blue or purple skin around the mouth
  • Dehydration
  • Low-grade fever
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Dry and irritating cough

After a week or two the symptoms get worse. Thick mucus builds up in your airways, leading to uncontrollable coughing. These severe coughing fits may:

  • Make you vomit
  • Make your face turn and red or blue
  • Cause extreme tiredness
  • End with a high-pitched “whoop” sound when you breath in next

However, not everyone with whooping cough makes the “whoop” sound. Sometimes, an ongoing hacking cough is the only sign especially in teens or adults. Babies might not cough at all. Instead, they might have trouble breathing, or they might even stop breathing for a short time.

What are the Causes of Whooping Cough?

Whooping cough is caused by bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. When someone with the infection coughs or sneezes, small droplets containing the bacteria can spread into the air. If someone nearby breathes in these droplets, they can get infected too.

What are the Risk Factors of Whooping Cough?

The whooping cough vaccine you get as a child doesn’t last forever. This means most teenagers and adults can catch the infection during an outbreak because their immunity decreases over time. That’s why outbreaks still happen regularly. Babies under 12 months old who haven’t been vaccinated or haven’t finished their vaccines are at higher risk for severe problems and even death if they get whooping cough.

What is the Diagnosis of Whooping Cough?

Diagnosing whooping cough early can be tricky because the symptoms are similar to those of other common respiratory illnesses like, colds, the flu, or bronchitis. Sometimes, doctors can figure out if someone has a whooping cough just by asking about symptoms and listening to the cough. But they might need medical tests to be sure. These tests could include:

Nose or Throat Culture:

The doctors take a swab or suction sample from the area where the nose and throat meet. Then they check the sample for signs of whooping cough bacteria.

Blood Tests:

A sample of blood is taken and sent to a lab to check the white blood cell count. White blood cells help fight infection like whooping cough. If the count is high it usually means there’s an infection or inflammation, but it doesn’t specifically confirm whooping cough.

Chest X-Rays:

The doctor might order X-rays to look for inflammation or fluid in the lungs. This can happen if pneumonia develops alongside whooping cough or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection.

What is the Treatment of Whooping Cough?

Infants with whooping cough often need to stay in the hospital because the illness is more serious for them. If your child has trouble keeping liquids or food down, they might need intravenous fluids. They’ll also be kept away from others to stop the infection from spreading. Older children and adults with whooping cough can usually be treated at home. Treatment usually involves:


These medicines kill the bacteria causing it and help the person get better faster. Family members who were around the sick person might also get antibiotics to prevent them from getting sick.

Cough Relief Medications:

Unfortunately, there aren’t many options to help with the cough. Over-the-counter cough medicines don’t work well for whooping cough and aren’t recommended.

Measure you can Take at Home:

For older children and adults, symptoms are typically milder. The doctor may recommend the following:

  • Get plenty of rest
  • Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration
  • Clear excess mucus and vomit from the airways and the back of the throat to prevent choking
  • Take Tylenol (acetaminophen, paracetamol) or ibuprofen to relieve a sore throat and reduce fever
  • Do not give aspirin to children under 16

What are the Complications of Whooping Cough?

Teens and adults usually recover from whooping cough without any issues. But if there are problems, they’re often caused by the strong coughing, such as:

  • Bruised or cracked ribs
  • Hernias in the abdomen
  • Broken blood vessels in the skin or eyes
  • Swollen face
  • Abdominal hernias
  • Broken blood vessel
  • Mouth and tongue ulcer
  • Nosebleeds
  • Otitis media

In infants, especially those under 6 months old, complications from whooping cough can be more serious. They may be including:

  • Pneumonia
  • Breathing difficulties, which can be slow or even stop
  • Trouble feeding
  • Severe dehydration
  • Weight loss
  • Hypotension (low blood pressure)
  • Kidney failure
  • Seizures
  • Brain damage

Since babies are at the highest risk of problems from whooping cough they often need treatment in a hospital. Complications can be very dangerous for babies under 6 months old.

What is the Prevention of Whooping Cough?

The most effective way to prevent whooping cough is by getting the pertussis vaccine. Doctors often give this vaccine together with vaccines for two other serious diseases, diphtheria and tetanus. It’s recommended to start getting vaccinated during infancy. The vaccine involves a series of five shots, usually given at these ages:

  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • 15 to 18 months
  • 4 to 6 years

Side effect of the vaccine are usually mild and may include:

  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Tiredness
  • Soreness at the injection site

Booster shots are Recommended for:

Adolescents: Since immunity from the pertussis vaccine tends to decrease by age 11 a booster shot is recommended at that age to protect against whooping cough, diphtheria, and tetanus.

Adults: Some versions of the tetanus and diphtheria vaccine given every 10 years also protect against whooping cough. This vaccine can also reduce the risk of passing whooping cough to babies.

Pregnant women’s: It’s now advised that pregnant women get the pertussis vaccine between 27 and 36 weeks of pregnancy. This can also offer some protection to the baby in the first few months of life. If you’ve been around someone with whooping cough your doctor might suggest antibiotics to prevent infection if you:

  • Work in healthcare.
  • Are pregnant.
  • Are under 12 months’ old.
  • Have a health condition that makes you more vulnerable to severe illness or complications, like a weak immune system or asthma.
  • Live with someone who has a whooping cough.
  • Live with someone who’s at high risk of severe illness or complications from whooping cough.

What is Chronic Cough?

A chronic cough is when you keep coughing for eight weeks or no longer. How it’s treated depends on what’s causing it. Sometimes, home remedies can help, but other times you might need to see a doctor for medicine. Usually, coughs don’t last long. You might catch a cold, for a few days or weeks, and then feel better. But sometimes, a cough sticks around for weeks, months, or even years. When it lasts for 8 weeks or more, it’s called a chronic cough. Coughing might not feel great, but it helps clear mucus and other stuff from your airways that could bother your lungs. It can also happen when you’re sick or have inflammation. Most of the time, chronic coughs have a reason that can be treated. They might come from things like allergies, or postnasal drip. It’s rare for them to be a sign of cancer or serious lung problems. But a chronic cough can really mess with your life. It can keep you up at night and make it hard to focus on work or hang out with friends. That’s why it’s important to see your doctor if you’ve had a cough for more than a few weeks.

What are the Stages of Chronic Cough?

When you get a chronic cough, it usually takes about seven to ten days after being exposed to the infection for symptoms to start showing up. It might take two to three months to fully recover. There are three stages of it:

Early Stage: Lasts one two weeks, similar to a cold. You can easily spread the infection during this time.

Severe Stage: Violent coughing spells develop. People may struggle to breath between coughs, and may drool, tear up, vomit, or feel exhausted. This stage can last one to six weeks, but sometimes up to 10 weeks. You’re contagious until about two weeks after the cough starts.

Recovery Stage: Coughing becomes less severe, and you’re no longer contagious. This stage usually lasts two to three weeks. But you might take longer to recover if you catch another respiratory infection, like a cold.

What are the Causes of Chronic Cough?

The main reasons people have a cough that won’t go away for a long time are:

  • Asthma, especially a kind called cough-variant asthma, where coughing is the main problem.
  • Acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
  • Upper airway cough syndrome which can happen because of postnasal drip.
  • Non-asthmatic eosinophilic bronchitis, which is when your airways get inflamed.
  • Certain medications like angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, used for high blood pressure.
  • Smoking.
  • Things in the environment that trigger coughing, like dust or pet dander.
  • Bacterial bronchitis

Other reasons could be:

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • Bronchospasm which can follow lung infections such as pneumonia.
  • Pertussis
  • Inhaling something foreign.

Less common reasons include:

  • Bronchiolitis, an infection and swelling of small air passages in the lungs.
  • Cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that thickness secretions, harms the lungs and other organs.
  • Interstitial lung disease, where lung tissue gets scarred.
  • Heart disease
  • Lung cancer 
  • Sarcoidosis, causing clusters of inflamed cells (granulomas) in the lungs and elsewhere in the body.

What are the Symptoms of Chronic Cough?

If you have a long-lasting cough, you might also have other symptoms, depending on what’s causing it. Common symptoms that often come with a chronic cough include:

  • Feeling like liquid is dripping down your throat (postnasal drip).
  • Heartburn.
  • A hoarse voice.
  • Runny and stuffy nose.
  • Sore throat.
  • Wheezing.
  • Shortness of breath.

Most serious symptoms are rare, but you should call a doctor if you:

  • Feel dizzy or faint.
  • Cough up blood.
  • Have night sweats.
  • Have a high fever.
  • Have trouble breathing or catching your breath.
  • Weight loss without trying.
  • Feel persistent chest pain.

What are the Tests of Chronic Cough?

There are several types of tests for chronic cough. Such as:

  • Acid reflux tests
  • Spirometry
  • Endoscopy
  • Sputum cultures
  • Pulmonary function tests
  • CT scans
  • X-rays
  • Allergies tests
  • Blood tests

What are the Risk Factors of Chronic Cough?

While a chronic cough can stem from various causes, certain factors and health conditions can raise the chances of getting it. These include:

  • Smoking
  • weakened immune system
  • asthma
  • Sinus inflammation
  • GERD

What is the Diagnosis of Chronic Cough?

Doctors usually diagnosed it by taking a mucus sample from the back of the throat or nose. They might also do a blood test. Getting treatment early is important because it can stop the disease from spreading especially to babies who can get very sick from it. It is usually treated with antibiotics, which can make the illness less severe or help you recover faster. But if the cough has lasted for more than two to three weeks, antibiotics might not work as well. Taking cough medicine probably won’t help much. The CDC says it’s not a good idea to take cough medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

What is the Treatment of Chronic Cough?

Treatment will depend on why you’re coughing. Some of the common reasons include:

  • Acid reflux
  • Asthma 
  • COPD
  • Infections
  • Postnasal drip
  • Speech therapy
  • OTC cough suppressants
  • Prescription cough suppressants
  • Gabapentin
  • Narcotic cough medications

Researchers are still studying new treatments that might help people with chronic cough who haven’t gotten better with other therapies. This could mean better treatments in the future.

What are the Complications of Chronic Cough?

Even though young children are at higher risk of complications from chronic cough than adults, adults can still experience some problems. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults with long-term chronic cough may have:

  • Headaches
  • Fainting
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep disorder
  • Urine leakage
  • Vomiting
  • Muscles pain
  • Broken ribs

It’s good to know that a chronic cough often has a cause that can be treated. The first thing to do is to talk to your doctor. They can help you start a plan easily or control your cough.

What is the Prevention of Chronic Cough?

The best way to stop it is to get a vaccine. For adults who haven’t had a vaccine before, it’s suggested to get a Tdap shot, which boosts protection against it. This shot replaces the usual Td booster that’s given every 10 years. Vaccines don’t last forever. Even if you got a vaccine for it when you were a child, your protection can decrease over time, which means you could get sick again. If you think you’ve been near someone with it even if you’re not coughing a lot, it’s a good idea to schedule a visit with your doctor.


What is the difference between whooping cough and normal cough?

What makes it different from a regular cough is that it can start like a common cold, but the coughing can last for several weeks or even months. Symptoms of whooping cough usually show up within 5 to 10 days after being exposed to the bacteria that cause it. Sometimes, though symptoms might not appear for up to 3 weeks.

What antibiotics kill whooping cough?

Antibiotics can prevent and treat it. Recommended antibiotics include azithromycin, erythromycin, clarithromycin. Trimethoprim sulfamethoxazole can also be used.

How do you sleep with a whooping cough?

Raise your hand and neck. When you lie flat on your back or side, mucus can build up in your throat and make you cough more. To prevent this, use a few pillows or a wedge to lift your head and neck slightly while you sleep. Just be careful not to elevate your head too much, as it might cause neck pain.

Does honey help a cough?

Yes, honey can help ease a cough. Drinking tea or warm lemon water with honey is a traditional method to soothe a sore throat. But honey by itself can also work as a cough suppressant. In a study children aged to 1 to 5 with upper respiratory tract infections were given up to 2 teaspoons (10 ML) of honey before bedtime.

Is lemon good for coughing?

Yes, lemon can be good for a cough. Lemon is rich in vitamin C and antioxidants, which help boost the immune system and support DNA repair and serotonin production. Drinking warm water or tea with freshly squeezed lemon can help soothe a sore throat and cough. Oranges, which are also high in vitamin C, can be helpful during the flu as well.

Which fruit is best for coughing?

Berries, such as strawberries and blueberries with their high antioxidants, can ease cough symptoms, and boost immunity when regularly included in your diet.

Which position is best to stop coughing?

The best position to help stop coughing while sleeping are:

  • In a semi-prone position: Use several pillows to prop up your chest. This helps prevent mucus building in your throat.
  • On your side: This position can be especially helpful for individuals with asthma, COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), and GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease).

What is the first line treatment for pertussis?

The first line treatment for pertussis (whooping cough) is antibiotics. When a diagnosis is confirmed or exposure is suspected, it’s important to start antibiotics right away.

What season is whooping cough season?

Although infection can occur throughout the year, be particularly cautious during the summer and fall months when pertussis cases tend to peak.

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