Whooping cough, also known as pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory tract bacterial infection. Followed by a fit of coughing, a high-pitched whoop sound or gasp may occur as the person breathes in. The coughing usually lasts for 10 or more weeks. The disease may even occur in those who have been vaccinated, but symptoms are typically milder.

Pertussis, caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis, is an airborne disease which spreads easily through the coughs and sneezes of an infected person. Prevention is mainly by vaccination but protection from pertussis decreases over time, so additional doses of vaccine are often recommended for older children and adults.

Approximately 16.3 million people worldwide were infected in 2015. In 2015, pertussis resulted in 58,700 deaths which is down from 138,000 deaths in 1990.

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How Does Whooping Cough Affect Your Body?

The bacteria which causes pertussis infects the respiratory tract and prevents natural defense systems from removing germs. This infection causes mucus accumulation, which leads to continual coughing and sometimes vomiting. The bacteria also populates the breathing tubes in the lung, inflaming and narrowing them. The inability to breathe may cause a red- or blue-colored face and exhaustion.

What Are The Causes of Whooping Cough?

Whooping cough is an airborne disease caused by a bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, droplets spread into the air which when inhaled by a healthy person, the person acquires the disease.

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What Are The Risk Factors of Whooping Cough?

  • Age – Infants younger than 12 months are at risk of this disease. Teenagers and adults are susceptible during an outbreak.
  • Incomplete vaccination – People who are not vaccinated or haven’t received the full set of recommended vaccines are at highest risk for severe complications and death.
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What Are The Symptoms of Whooping Cough?

Characteristics symptoms of pertussis include a paroxysmal cough, inspiratory whoop, and fainting, or vomiting after coughing.

The cough from pertussis is likely to cause subconjunctival hemorrhages, rib fractures, urinary incontinence, hernias, and vertebral artery dissection.

The illness usually starts with mild coughing, sneezing, or a runny nose. After one or two weeks, the coughing classically develops into uncontrollable fits, followed by a high-pitched whoop sound in younger children, or a gasping sound in older children.

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How is Whooping Cough Diagnosed?

Diagnosing whooping cough in its early stages is difficult because the symptoms resemble those of other common respiratory illnesses, such as a cold, the flu or bronchitis.

Medical tests may be needed to confirm the diagnosis which include:

  • A nose or throat culture and test – A swab or suction sample is taken from the nasopharynx area which is then checked for evidence of the presence of whooping cough bacteria.
  • Blood tests – To check white blood cell count, because white blood cells help the body fight infections, such as whooping cough. Higher WBC count typically indicates the presence of infection or inflammation.
  • Chest X-ray – X-ray is done to check for the presence of inflammation or fluid in the lungs, which can occur when pneumonia complicates Pertussis and other respiratory infections.
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How to Prevent And Control Whooping Cough?

  • Whooping cough is prevented with the pertussis vaccine, which is given in combination with vaccines against two other serious diseases, diphtheria, and tetanus.
  • Vaccination is given to infants at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, and 15 to 18 months and later in 4 to 6 years of age.
  • Booster shots – This is given to adolescents because immunity from the pertussis vaccine tends to decrease by age 11.

Treatment of Whooping Cough – Allopathic Treatment

Medications involved are:

Treatment of Whooping Cough – Homeopathic Treatment

  • Arsenicum – This is given when there is great prostration with waxy paleness and coldness of the skin.
  • Belladonna – This is prescribed when the child gets very red in the face with every coughing spell.
  • Bryonia – This is indicated when a cough is worse with motion and after eating or drinking.
  • Carbo veg – This is given when great exhaustion after every coughing spell, with blueness of the skin, hot head and face is present.
  • Chamomilla – This is given for a dry cough.
  • Pulsatilla – This is given when the child is weepy and cough is very loose, with vomiting of mucus.

Whooping Cough – Lifestyle Tips

  • Get plenty of rest – It is advised to rest to help you relax and rest better.
  • Drink plenty of fluids – Water, juice, and soups should be given, especially to children to avoid dehydration.
  • Eat smaller meals – To avoid vomiting after coughing, eating smaller, more frequent meals rather than large ones can be helpful.
  • Clean air – Keep your home free of irritants that can trigger coughing spells. You may use an air purifier in your house.
  • Prevent transmission – while coughing cove your mouth and wash your hands after that.

What Are The Recommended Exercises For a Person With Whooping Cough?

No specific exercise is recommended for patients with whooping cough. However, practicing breathing exercise may help.

Whooping Cough & Pregnancy – Things to Know

  • No deaths have been reported in pregnant women during pertussis and the disease is not severe during pregnancy.
  • Women who have whooping cough at the time of delivery may pass the illness to their babies.
  • Getting vaccinated while pregnant is highly effective in protecting the baby from developing whooping cough in the first few weeks of their life.
  • The immunity the mother get from the vaccine will pass to the baby through the placenta and provide passive protection for them until they are old enough to be routinely vaccinated against Pertussis at two months old.

Common Complications Related To Whooping Cough

  • Bruised or cracked ribs
  • Abdominal hernias
  • Broken blood vessels in the skin
  • Pneumonia (in children)
  • Slowed or stopped breathing (in children)
  • Dehydration or weight loss due to feeding difficulties (in children)
  • Seizures (in children)
  • Brain damage (in children)


Q. How contagious is whooping cough?

A. Infected people are contagious up to about 2 weeks after the cough begins. After getting antibiotics the person will be contagious for 5 days.

Q. Do adults get whooping cough?

A. Adults may have a milder case of the disease. To prevent it, a vaccine named Tdap is given to adults and adolescents.

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