Authored by JoannaRasmuson

Whooping Cough: Signs, Symptoms & Treatments

April 2, 2019 | Family Medicine

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a respiratory disease that is highly contagious and commonly seen in children and babies. Fortunately, most cases of whooping cough can be prevented by the DTaP or Tdap vaccine, but children who are too young to get the vaccine can still get the disease, as can adults and teenagers with faded immunity.

Symptoms of Whooping Cough

You can be infected with whooping cough for seven to 10 days before symptoms occur. It may seem as if you have a cold because the symptoms are similar:

  • Runny nose
  • Congestion
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Fever
  • Cough

As the disease progresses, symptoms become more severe. You may experience:

  • Uncontrollable coughing (caused by thick mucus in your airways)
  • Becoming red or blue in the face
  • Extreme fatigue.
  • A cough ending with a high-pitched “whoop”

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your healthcare provider will want to know if you’ve been exposed to whooping cough as part of the diagnostic process. However, there is a laboratory test that checks the mucus for this disease. Your doctor may also take a blood test in addition to your physical examination.

Treatment for pertussis usually involves antibiotics. The sooner you can begin treatment, the better. Treatment can also prevent you from spreading the disease to other people. Generally, cough medicine does not help, and you should only take them as directed by your doctor.

You can manage some of the symptoms with these home treatments:

  • Use a cool mist vaporizer to soothe the cough and loosen mucus
  • Wash hands well and often
  • Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration—if dehydration occurs, contact your doctor
  • Eating small meals every few hours to help prevent throwing up after coughing

Some children require hospitalization if the disease is severe. At the hospital, doctors can suction mucus out of the breathing passages and administer oxygen if needed. Children who aren’t drinking and eating enough due to whooping cough may be given intravenous fluids.

Prevention With Vaccines

The pertussis vaccine is a series of five injections given to children over six years. The first vaccine is given at 2 months old, then 4 months, 6 months, 15 to 18 months and last, at 4 to 6 years old. Immunity from this set of vaccines will begin to wane when the child is about 11 years old. Some doctors recommend a booster shot when the child is older.

Adults can get a combined tetanus and diphtheria vaccine that includes protection against whooping cough. It’s recommended that pregnant women get a pertussis vaccine after 27 weeks of gestation.

The side effects of the whooping cough vaccine are mild compared to the disease. Talk to your doctor about your risk for whooping cough and whether you should get the vaccine.

Dr. Oneida practices the full range of family medicine including obstetrics, pediatrics, adolescent medicine, adult medicine and some orthopedics. She also performs colposcopy, cryotherapy and vasectomies. Due to the volume of deliveries done, her practice has evolved to be more centered on women and children’s medicine, although she enjoys all aspects of family medicine. 



“Whooping Cough.” Mayo Clinic.


“Whooping Cough.” U.S. National Library of Medicine.

“Pertussis (Whooping Cough).” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.



Maria Oneida, MD

Telehealth is not appropriate for every medical concern, so it’s important to ask your provider whether a virtual visit is suitable for your needs.

Learn more about Telehealth

This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.