Whooping Cough

Whooping cough is a highly contagious respiratory tract infection that causes severe hacking and coughing, followed by a high-pitched intake of air that sounds like “whoop”. Originally, whooping cough was considered a childhood disease before a vaccine was developed. Whooping cough most commonly affects children too young to complete the course of vaccination and teenagers whose immunity has faded. Whooping cough is rarely fatal, but most commonly occurs in infants, which is why it is important for pregnant women and others who have close contact with babies to be vaccinated against the infection.

Symptoms of whooping cough appear seven to ten days after the onset of the infection, though it can sometimes take longer. Usually, the symptoms of whooping cough are initially mild and resemble the common cold. Runny nose, nasal congestion, red and watery eyes, fever, and of course coughing, are the most common early symptoms.

After a week or two, signs and symptoms worsen. Thick mucus accumulates inside the airways which causes choking and uncontrollable coughing. Severe coughing fits can result in vomiting, red or blue face, extreme fatigue, or the “whoop” sound during the next breath of air.

Pediatricians can treat whooping cough with antibiotics, which fight the infection by killing the bacteria and making it difficult for the bacteria to grow. Keeping your home free of irritants such as smoke, dust, or chemical fumes can speed up the recovery process. A clean, cool mist humidifier can aid in loosening the mucus and soothe coughing. Make sure that your child continues to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Do not take cough medicine unless your doctor recommends it, especially for children under four.

Vaccination is important to preventing whooping cough and its severity. While vaccinations are important and effective, they are not perfect. Infection is not usually as bad for people who have been vaccinated compared to those who haven’t. However, this does not mean that children cannot get sick. For vaccinated children, coughing lasts fewer days. Coughing fits, “whooping”, and vomiting after coughing fits are far less common. Apnea (when your upper airway becomes blocked many times while you sleep, reducing or completely stopping airflow) and cyanosis (a bluish color in the skin, lips, and nail beds caused by a shortage of oxygen in the blood) are also less common in vaccinated children.

Recovery from whooping cough can last two or three weeks, during which time the respiratory system is more susceptible to infection. Weakened respiratory systems can continue for months after infection, which is why it is important to protect yourself even after recovering.

Teach your child to cover his mouth and nose with a tissue or use his elbow when coughing or sneezing. Teach your child how to wash his hands properly, using warm water and scrubbing thoroughly with mild soap for at least twenty seconds.

If prolonged coughing spells are affecting the health of your child or causes vomiting, violent or rapid coughing, or inhaling with a “whoop” sound, contact your pediatrician at Goldsboro Pediatrics immediately. If your child stops breathing or turns red or blue for prolonged periods of time, call 911.

Centers for Disease Control
Mayo Clinic

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