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What are the symptoms of whooping cough (pertussis) in children?

The symptoms of whooping cough (pertussis) in children are:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Minimal or no fever
  • Coughing that usually worsens over a two- to four-week period
  • “Whooping” sound when taking a breath
  • Vomiting following a cough episode
  • Child often turns red or purple when coughing

Pertussis has three stages of infection. During the first couple of weeks, the symptoms are similar to a cold, such as a cough, runny nose and other symptoms associated with viral respiratory infections. The next stage of pertussis, which can last up to 6 to 10 weeks, is the paroxysmal stage, and it’s during this time patients will experience coughing fits that make loud whooping sounds, hence the name “whooping cough.” While things may return to normal two to three weeks after the paroxysmal stage, the immune system is still very fragile and is susceptible to other respiratory infections.

Babies don't have strong enough chest walls to take the big breath that makes those loud, whooping sounds, so oftentimes they can have pertussis without a cough at all.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.