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

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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 six 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.

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

Continue Learning about Whooping Cough

Whooping Cough

Whooping Cough

If your child experiences uncontrollable coughing that makes it difficult for them to breathe, talk to your doctor about whooping cough. Thousands of people yearly become ill with whooping cough, which is also known as pertussis, ...

and some are hospitalized. This highly contagious illness can be very dangerous, and even deadly, in young infants. Thankfully, vaccines have helped to reduce the spread of whooping cough, although current vaccines are not 100% effective against this illness. If your child contracts this bacterial respiratory infection he or she will most likely be treated with antibiotics. To protect your children against whooping cough, talk to your doctor about vaccination
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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.