How to spot signs of whooping cough

Sick man holding his chest in pain while coughing in the living room.

There have been several infant deaths in the UK due to whooping cough so we felt it was important to write a useful guide to spotting the early signs especially. If you are concerned your child has whooping cough, please seek medical advice because although it can be a self-limiting illness, it is highly contagious and can cause significant complications in some cases.

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. Although it primarily affects infants and young children, adolescents and adults can also be susceptible to this illness. Recognising the signs and symptoms of whooping cough is crucial for prompt treatment and preventing the spread of this disease.

Initial Stage

The initial stage of whooping cough typically resembles a common cold, making it challenging to identify. Symptoms during this stage, which usually lasts for one to two weeks, may include:

  • Mild cough
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Low-grade fever
  • Mild coughing fits that intensify at night

Paroxysmal Stage:

After the initial stage, the infection progresses, and the characteristic coughing fits of whooping cough become more prominent. During this stage, which lasts for a few weeks to several months, symptoms may include:

  • Severe and uncontrollable coughing fits
  • A “whooping” sound during inhalation following a coughing fit
  • Vomiting or exhaustion after coughing episodes
  • Cyanosis (bluish skin) or redness in the face due to prolonged coughing

Convalescent Stage:

The convalescent stage typically occurs after several weeks to months, during which symptoms gradually diminish. However, coughing may persist, albeit less frequently and with reduced intensity.

Prevention & Treatment

Immunization is the most effective way to prevent whooping cough. Routine vaccination, including the DTaP vaccine (for infants and young children) and the Tdap vaccine (for adolescents and adults), is crucial for both personal protection and preventing the spread of the infection.

All babies should be given three doses of the 6 in 1 jab at 8, 12 and 16 weeks of age to protect against whooping cough and other serious diseases such as diphtheria and polio with a pre-school booster offered at 3 years 4 months. If your child has not been immunised, please speak to your GP.

Additionally, practicing good respiratory hygiene, such as covering the mouth and nose while coughing or sneezing, can help reduce transmission.

If diagnosed with whooping cough, treatment options may include:

  • Antibiotics: Early administration of antibiotics, such as azithromycin, clarithromycin, or erythromycin, can help shorten the duration of the illness and reduce its severity.
  • Supportive care: Rest, staying hydrated, and utilizing a humidifier can alleviate symptoms and aid in recovery.

If you’d prefer a private clinic, please contact us by telephone or book online.

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Picture of Alya Shakir

Alya Shakir

Alya has been responsible for the growth of the clinics, overseeing their expansion and development and creating policies and procedures to ensure optimum patient care and experience. Alya is the registered manager with the Care Quality Commission.

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