Whooping cough is an infectious bacterial disease that causes uncontrollable coughing. The name comes from the noise you make when you take a breath after you cough. You may have choking spells or may cough so hard that you vomit.

Anyone can get whooping cough, but it is more common in infants and children. It’s especially dangerous for infants. The coughing spells can be so bad that it is hard for infants to eat, drink, or breathe.

Whooping Cough (Pertussis) Facts

Whooping cough is one of the most common vaccine-preventable infectious diseases among children younger than five years of age in the United States. Another name for whooping cough is “pertussis.” The “P” is in the familiar DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis vaccine) combination vaccine routinely given to children.

Despite the widespread use of pertussis vaccines, whooping cough has made a comeback in recent years. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Prior to the introduction of the pertussis vaccine, there were an average of 175,000 cases of whooping cough each year. This dropped off to fewer than 3,000 cases per year in the 1980s. There has been a recent resurgence in the U.S., with a total of 48,277 cases of pertussis reported in 2012, 24,231 cases in 2013, and 32,971 cases in 2014.

The prevalence of whooping cough in infants and children is increasing. Most deaths from pertussis occur among infants under three months of age. The incidence rate of pertussis among infants is greater than all other age groups. The second highest rates of whooping cough occur in children seven to 10 years of age.

What Are the Symptoms and Signs of Whooping Cough?

The first symptoms of whooping cough are similar to those of a common cold:

  • runny nose
  • sneezing
  • mild cough
  • low-grade fever

After about 1 to 2 weeks, the dry, irritating cough evolves into coughing spells. During a coughing spell, which can last for more than a minute, a child may turn red or purple. At the end of a spell, the child may make the characteristic whooping sound when breathing in or may vomit. Between spells, the child usually feels well.

While many infants and younger kids with whooping cough develop the coughing fits and accompanying whoop, not all do. And sometimes babies don’t cough or whoop as older kids do. Infants may look as if they’re gasping for air with a reddened face and may actually stop breathing (this is called apnea) for a few seconds during very bad spells.

Adults and teens may have milder or different symptoms, such as a prolonged cough (rather than coughing spells) or coughing without the whoop.

Diagnosing and treating whooping cough

If you or your child experience symptoms of whooping cough, seek medical attention right away, especially if members of your family haven’t been immunized.

Whooping cough is highly contagious — bacteria can become airborne when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or laughs — and can quickly spread to others.


To diagnose whooping cough, your doctor will perform a physical exam and may take samples of mucus in the nose and throat. These samples will then be tested for the presence of the B. pertussis bacteria. A blood test may also be necessary to make an accurate diagnosis.


Many infants and some young children will need to be hospitalized during treatment, for observation and respiratory support. Some may need intravenous (IV) fluids for dehydration if symptoms prevent them from drinking enough fluids.

Since whooping cough is a bacterial infection, antibiotics are the primary course of treatment. Antibiotics are most effective in the early stages of whooping cough. They can also be used in the late stages of the infection to prevent it from spreading to others.

While antibiotics can help treat the infection, they don’t prevent or treat the cough itself. However, cough medicines aren’t recommended — they have no effect on whooping cough symptoms and may carry harmful side effects for infants and small children.

Most doctors suggest using humidifiers in your child’s bedroom to keep air moist and help alleviate symptoms of whooping cough.


Recovery from pertussis can happen slowly. The cough becomes milder and less common. However, coughing fits can return with other respiratory infections for many months after the pertussis infection started.

Urgent Care Omaha Walk-In Clinics and Bellevue, NE | Whooping Cough Pertussis Treatments

Our staff works to provide prompt, personal, and professional care for all of our patients. We strive to provide the attention patients need in as quick a time as possible. Urgent Care Clinics in Omaha & Bellevue, Nebraska has three locations in the Omaha metropolitan area. Our three walk-in clinics are:

The information contained on this webpage is for educational purposes as well as to provide general information and general understanding of the pertinent medical issue only, not to provide a specific diagnosis. This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. By using this blog/web site you understand there is no doctor patient relationship between you and the blog/web site publisher. The information included on this site should not be used as a substitute for medical advice from a licensed medical professional in your state. Neither Urgent Care Network, its subsidiaries, affiliates, assignees or successors in interest, nor any other party assume liability for loss or damage due to reliance on content of this blog/web site. If you are experiencing a severe medical issue, you should seek emergency assistance immediately.


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