Recognize the Signs of Whooping Cough

For a newborn, something as minor as the common cold can turn into serious health complications. Whooping cough is an infection adults can contract and spread to children easily. It starts off as a cold but can be very dangerous to infants. You could have whooping cough (also referred to as Pertussis) and may not even realize it until symptoms worsen, which is why it’s important to be able to recognize the signs of whooping cough.

What is Whooping Cough?

Whooping cough can be spread through the air when an infected individual coughs, laughs, or sneezes. Droplets containing the bacteria can be breathed in by anyone nearby. Once the bacteria enter the airways, they attach to the lining of the lungs and can cause inflammation and swelling which leads to coughing that can be long-lasting. It can last anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks and can be contracted by anyone.

In adults, symptoms typically start off with a minor cough, sneezing, runny nose, and possibly low fever. The condition gets its name from the whooping sound that is contributed with the coughing spells which develop within a week to 10 days after the first symptom. The cough produced from Pertussis is usually dry, not producing any phlegm, which leads to spells of coughing that can last for up to a minute or longer at a time. 

Due to the nature of Pertussis, common over-the-counter medications that are usually designed to loosen up mucus or suppress coughing are ineffective in treating the condition. If it’s caught early on, an antibiotic prescribed by a physician may help to treat the symptoms and cut down the coughing. It can also prevent the spread of the infection to others.

The Dangers of Pertussis in Infants

In babies, whooping cough may not produce the characteristic whooping sound. Your baby may make sounds gasping for air and/or vomit from the intense coughing. For babies under 18 months of age, whooping cough can become very serious and cause your baby to stop breathing. Hospitalization may be required in some instances where young infants have a severe case of whooping cough.

Early symptoms of whooping cough will present as a cold with runny nose, mild fever and mild coughing. After the first week, the cold symptoms will subside and coughing becomes more severe. A physician can diagnose Pertussis by testing the nasal secretions.  Know how to recognize the signs of whooping cough in your baby and take them to their pediatrician right away if you suspect they may have it. Signs might include:

  • Rapid fits of coughing
  • Whooping sound at the end of cough (like a gasping for air)
  • Pauses in breathing
  • Blue or purplish coloration in the face during coughing fit.

Pertussis can become very severe in infants under a year old and in severe complications can lead to death. If your child stops breathing or their face/lips turn blue or purple seek immediate medical attention.

A vaccine for Pertussis can be administered to adults and infants as young as 2 months followed by a series of 3 more injections between 2 and 18 months. It is recommended that adults who will be near and around young infants to become vaccinated to avoid contracting and spreading the illness. Children under 6 months old are particularly vulnerable as they haven’t received the full series of vaccinations and younger infants are at greater risk of developing complications. In children under a year, more than 50% that contract whooping cough will require hospitalizationWhile unlikely, vaccinated children and adults can still contract whooping cough, however in such cases the symptoms are not as severe and long-lasting.

**We are not medical experts and the information contained in this article should be taken in place of seeking expert medical advise from a physician. Always consult with your doctor regarding concerns or questions you have about your child’s health.

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