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Whooping Cough (Pertussis) - Treatment Overview

The aim of treatment is to make symptoms less severe and reduce the spread of infection to close contacts.

Whooping cough is generally treated with antibiotics, which may help shorten the course of the disease if they are taken early in the first stage of illness. But they may not be prescribed right away, because it's hard to tell the difference between the first symptoms of whooping cough and the symptoms of a common cold. As symptoms progress, they become more distinctive of whooping cough. Antibiotics are usually given at this point. Antibiotics can help reduce the spread of infection while you are waiting for test results to confirm the diagnosis. Family members and others who have had close contact with someone infected with whooping cough are usually prescribed antibiotics before any symptoms start.1

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Severe coughing spells can significantly decrease the blood's oxygen supply. If a pulse oximeter measurement finds that blood oxygen levels are low, oxygen may be given for a short time through a nasal cannula or an oxygen mask.

Infants, especially those younger than 4 months, are typically hospitalized. Hospitalization allows health professionals to make sure the baby is getting enough fluids and nutrients. Also, the baby is monitored and evaluated for how well he or she tolerates and recovers from coughing episodes. If needed, a baby also may receive oxygen therapy and have mucus suctioned from his or her nose and throat. Because suctioning mucus may trigger coughing spells, it is only done in certain situations.

Emergency treatment

Call 911 or other emergency services immediately if a person stops breathing, turns blue, or becomes unconscious. Start rescue breathing immediately or follow instructions given by emergency services while you wait for help. For more information, see the topic Dealing With Emergencies.

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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.
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