Whooping Cough — Signs, Symptoms, Prevention, Treatment, And Homecare

That cough which refuses to go away could be much worse than simply seasonal allergies, or common cold. It could be a sign of bronchitis, pneumonia, tuberculosis, or pertussis, better known as whooping cough. Very young children and adolescents are more susceptible to it as their parents are likely to ignore some of the early signs. However, you should be doubly cautious as whooping cough is a highly contagious bacterial infection, and spreads rapidly. Further, some of the long-term effects of this ailment are quite dangerous.

Signs and Symptoms

A mild fever accompanied by a runny nose, sneezing, and a racking cough are the early signs. So, if a cough is not responding to an anti-allergen or an antihistamine; you should see a doctor immediately. It can progress to severe paroxysms of coughing leading to being knocked out of breath leading to the typical gasp or whoop in between coughs, even fainting. Some begin to vomit after a long paroxysm of coughing. These paroxysms usually occur in hourly bouts, and could be triggered by even yawning, laughing, or eating.

DANGERS: Whooping cough should never be taken lightly. Babies and infants might not display some of the typical symptoms. It is more dangerous as they have gaps in breathing or apnea, and might choke to death. In the later stages, exhaustion and dehydration are often observed. If it progresses too far, it can lead to broken ribs, urinary incontinence, and subconjunctival hemorrhages. The biggest risk is ruptured pleura, which could lead to pneumothorax.


Like many other infections, vaccination is the only proven preventive measure before exposure to pertussis. The vaccine for diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTaP) can be administered to babies, children, and adults. Regardless of the age when you received the vaccination, you must take booster shots at ten-year intervals.

UNPROVEN METHOD: Some physicians prescribe antibiotics to patients who have been exposed to the infection, but are yet to exhibit symptoms. The efficacy of such a procedure has not been proven through clinical testing.

The incubation period whooping cough varies from five to ten days. In certain cases, symptoms don’t surface till three to six weeks. The illness itself might last from three to ten weeks. That is why the Chinese call it the 100-day cough. However, full recovery may take anything from three weeks to three months, depending on how early
it was diagnosed, the general health of the patient, and how she/he responds to the treatment. Co-morbidities, general weakness, and overall reduced immunity might cause the illness to linger.


The doctor will usually undertake a physical examination to determine your ailment. You will be asked whether you have been exposed to infection recently, and for how long the symptoms have been troubling you. If still in doubt, she will administer a lab test in which a specimen swab from your throat is taken. However, if the infection has lasted longer than three weeks, then culture and DFA are futile.

  • The antibiotics which are usually administered are azithromycin, clarithromycin, erythromycin, and sulfamethoxazole which are available under diverse brand names. If administered after three weeks, they can only prevent secondary infections since the infectious stage has passed, though symptoms persist for much longer.

  • The milder forms of the illness can be cured using some natural remedies which can be given at home. It is inadvisable to rely on home remedies to cure very small children and the aged as they have weaker constitutions. Making a syrup of honey, water, and red clover blossoms can render some relief. People have reported relief after consuming cabbage soup/ pomegranate juice/ or a dry mixture consisting of finely ground black pepper and rock sugar (misri).

  • Chewing cloves; drinking herbal teas in which bay leaf, long pepper, dried ginger, and cinnamon have been infused; adding crushed garlic to food; and inhaling steam in which mint leaves and fenugreek seeds have been added are some other options. However, in serious attacks, medication is best left to the experts.

  • To avoid the worst consequences of whooping cough, it is best to consult the doctors at the centers of excellence under the Asian Institute of Medical Sciences. For pulmonary and respiratory issues like whooping cough, consult Dr. Manav Manchanda, Sr. Consultant & HOD, Respiratory, Critical Care & Sleep Medicine, and Dr. Hemant Goel, Sr. Consultant, Respiratory & Sleep Medicine.

    If you seek relief and treatment for your little sweetheart, you can consult Dr. (Brig) Arvind Gupta, Chairman, Paediatrics & Neonatology & Dean, DNB; Dr. Jash Prakesh Sen Mazumdar, Director, Paediatrics & Neonatology; Dr. Sumit Chakravarty, Consultant, Paediatrics & Neonatology; or Dr. Haripal Kashyap, Consultant, Paediatrics, Paediatric Intensive Care & Neonatology.

    Content Reviewed by – Asian Hospital Medical Editors