Whooping cough is the most contagious respiratory tract infection. To many, this is referred to as a severe hacking cough, followed by a “whoop” sound.
Before the vaccine was developed, whooping cough was considered a childhood sickness. Whooping cough now primarily affects young children who are unable to complete the full course of vaccinations and adolescents and adults who are immunodeficiency.
Deaths associated with whooping cough are rare but commonly occur in children. That is why it is so important for pregnant women and others who are in close contact with the baby to be vaccinated against whooping cough.
If you have whooping cough, it can take seven to 10 days for the symptoms to appear, although sometimes it can take longer. They are usually mild at first and resemble a common cold:
- Runny nose
- Nasal congestion
- Red, watery eyes
After a week or two, the symptoms worsen. Thick mucus accumulates in your airways and causes an uncontrollable cough. Acute and chronic cough attacks:
- Cause extreme fatigue
- Results on the red or blue face
- Provoke vomiting
- Finish with a high pitched “whoop” sound during the next breath of air
However, many do not have the characteristic of a whoop. In some cases, a persistent hacking cough is the only sign of whooping cough in a teenager or adult.
Children do not have a cough. Instead, they may have difficulty breathing or they may stop breathing temporarily.
Whooping cough is caused by a type of bacterium called Portodella pertussis. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, small germicidal droplets are sprayed into the air and inhaled into the lungs of anyone nearby.
The whooping cough vaccine you receive as a child will eventually wear off. It infects most teenagers and adults.
Children under 12 months of age who have not been vaccinated or have received the full set of recommended vaccines have a higher risk of serious complications and death.
Teens and adults often recover from whooping cough without any issues. When difficulties occur, they can have side effects such as a severe cough:
- Abrasive or cracked ribs
- Abdominal hernia
- Broken blood vessels in the skin or whites of your eyes
Whooping cough problems in children, especially those under 6 months of age, are more severe and may include the following:
- Slowed or stopped breathing
- Dehydration or weight loss due to feeding difficulties
- Brain damage
Because infants and toddlers are at the greatest risk of complications from whooping cough, they’re more likely to need treatment in a hospital. Complications are life-threatening for infants less than 6 months of age.
When to see a doctor
Call your doctor if you or your child has a chronic cough:
- Inhale with a whooping sound
- Appear to be struggling to breathe or have noticeable pauses in breathing
- Turn red or blue