Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Children's Health

Font Size

Whooping Cough (Pertussis) - Topic Overview

pulm_01.jpg

What is whooping cough?

Whooping cough is a disease that causes very severe coughing that may last for months. You can cough so hard that you hurt a rib.

Whooping cough is also called pertussis.

Whooping cough is contagious. This means it spreads easily from one person to another. You can prevent whooping cough by getting shots, called vaccines, that protect you from the disease.

Whooping cough can lead to other problems, such as pneumonia. These problems can be very serious in adults ages 60 and older and in young children, especially babies who are born early or have not had shots to prevent whooping cough.

With good care, most people recover from whooping cough with no problems.

A person of any age can get whooping cough. You can get whooping cough more than one time, and you may get it years apart. But you will be less likely to get it again if you get the shots as recommended.

What causes whooping cough?

Whooping cough is caused by bacteria that infect the top of the throat (pharynx) where it meets the nasal passages. The bacteria bother the throat, which causes coughing.

See a picture of the respiratory system , including the pharynx.

Whooping cough spreads easily from person to person. When someone with the disease coughs, sneezes, or laughs, tiny drops of fluid holding the bacteria are put into the air. The bacteria can infect others when they breathe in the drops or get them on their hands and touch their mouth or nose. After the bacteria infect someone, symptoms appear about 7 to 14 days later.

What are the symptoms?

Adults usually have milder symptoms than children. How bad your symptoms are also depends on whether you had the vaccine and how long ago it was.

Symptoms of whooping cough usually last 6 to 10 weeks, but they may last longer. In young children, three stages can occur. Older children and adults don't always have the same stages.

In stage 1, symptoms are like those of a cold:

  • You sneeze and have a runny nose, a mild cough, watery eyes, and sometimes a mild fever.
  • The symptoms last from several days to 2 weeks.
  • This is when you are most likely to spread the disease.

In stage 2, the cold symptoms get better, but the cough gets worse.

  • The cough goes from a mild, dry, hacking cough to a severe cough that you can't control.
  • You may cough so long and hard that you can't breathe. When you can take a breath of air, it may make a whooping noise.
  • After a coughing fit, you may vomit and feel very tired.
  • Between coughing fits, you feel normal.
  • Symptoms are most severe in this stage. They usually last 2 to 4 weeks or longer.
1|2

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: October 18, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
Next Article:

Today on WebMD

preschool age girl sitting at desk
Article
look at my hand
Slideshow
 
woman with cleaning products
Slideshow
young boy with fever
Article
 

worried kid
fitArticle
boy on father's shoulder
Article
 
Child with red rash on cheeks
Slideshow
girl thinking
Article
 

babyapp
New
Child with adhd
Slideshow
 
rl with friends
fitSlideshow
Syringes and graph illustration
Tool
 
6-Week Challenges
Want to know more?
Build a Fitter Family Challenge – Get your crew motivated to move.
Feed Your Family Better Challenge - Tips and tricks to healthy up your diet.
Sleep Better Challenge - Snooze clues for the whole family.
I have read and agreed to WebMD's Privacy Policy.
Enter cell phone number
- -
Entering your cell phone number and pressing submit indicates you agree to receive text messages from WebMD related to this challenge. WebMD is utilizing a 3rd party vendor, CellTrust, to provide the messages. You can opt out at any time.
Standard text rates apply

WebMD Special Sections