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How Do You Know If Your Child Has Whooping Cough?

Reviewed on 2/17/2021

What is whooping cough?

Pertussis, commonly called whooping cough, is a highly contagious bacterial infection. It causes severe coughing that sometimes causes a 'whooping' sound when your child breathes in.
Pertussis, commonly called whooping cough, is a highly contagious bacterial infection. It causes severe coughing that sometimes causes a 'whooping' sound when your child breathes in.

Pertussis, commonly called whooping cough, is a highly contagious bacterial infection that can invade your child’s respiratory system

Whooping cough causes severe coughing that sometimes causes a “whooping” sound when your child breathes in. 

Whooping cough mainly affects babies that are too young for immunization or children whose immunization has begun to fade. If you suspect your child has whooping cough, contact your doctor right away.

Whooping cough is a common problem. It is caused by a very contagious bacterial infection commonly found in the mouth, nose, and throat. The infection spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. 

Anyone can develop whooping cough, but some people are more at risk than others. These groups include infants younger than 6 months and other children between the ages of 11 and 18 years.

If your child has whooping cough, their risk of serious health issues increases. It can lead to:

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of whooping cough is important for treating it and ensuring that your child gets the medicine they need. 

Symptoms of your child’s whooping cough

If your child has whooping cough, it normally takes a few weeks for symptoms to develop. The whooping cough then progresses through three different stages.

Stage One

When your child has whooping cough, the first stage usually lasts about one to two weeks. During this stage, your child may experience a mild cough, low-grade fever, and runny nose

Stage Two

When your child has whooping cough, stage two may last for several weeks. 

During this stage, your child may experience a dry and harsh cough, a cough that comes in fits, and a cough that ends in a “whooping” sound. 

The cough may be triggered by activities like playing, feeding, or crying. Also, your child may have difficulty breathing. If they vomit, be careful to keep them from choking on their vomit. 

Stage Three

The third stage of your child’s whooping cough typically begins after the fourth week. 

At this stage, your child may stop vomiting. The cough normally begins to subside but could last for another two months. 

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Causes of your child’s whooping cough

Whooping cough is a highly contagious bacterial infection that affects the respiratory system. 

The illness spreads from person to person through the air when someone coughs or sneezes out the bacteria. Your child could develop whooping cough if they inhale an infected person’s breath.

People are the most contagious during the first few weeks of their infection. Antibiotics can help reduce the time that your child is contagious to others. 

Incubation

The incubation period is the time between when your child first gets the whooping cough infection and the time when they first start experiencing symptoms. 

Normally, the incubation for whooping cough is 7 to 10 days. This period can last as long as three weeks. 

Duration

Whooping cough normally starts with one to two weeks of cold-like symptoms. It then develops over the course of three months of severe coughing. 

The amount of time it takes for symptoms to go away completely varies depending on your child’s recovery and severity of their symptoms.

Prevention 

Sometimes adults can catch whooping cough and pass the infection to kids. 

Adults can help prevent the spread of whooping cough by getting the whooping cough vaccine and talking to their doctor if they suspect they have any symptoms. 

Diagnosis for your child’s whooping cough

Only a licensed healthcare professional can diagnose your child’s whooping cough.

Your doctor may be able to diagnose whooping cough by completing a physical exam and taking nose and throat mucus swabs from your child to be examined in a lab. The doctor may also take blood tests and complete a chest x-ray.

Treatments for your child’s whooping cough

Whooping cough is treated with antibiotics used to fight bacterial infection. Many experts believe that starting antibiotics early will help reduce the length of the infection. 

Even if the antibiotics aren’t started until later, the medicine can still help prevent the infection’s spread to others.

Your child may need to be hospitalized when they are diagnosed with whooping cough. 

Children are at greater risk of developing other problems from whooping cough such as pneumonia, difficulty breathing, and dehydration. While in the hospital, your child will be monitored closely and be given oxygen, intravenous (IV) fluids, and medical care as needed.

If your child has whooping cough and is being treated at home, it’s essential to follow your doctor’s instructions. 

Make sure to give your child the antibiotics as prescribed and let your child rest. Keep them away from irritants that may trigger coughing, like smoke, fireplaces, and wood-burning stoves.

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

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia: “Pertussis (Whooping Cough).”

KidsHealth: “Whooping Cough (Pertussis).”

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