Whooping Cough

Whooping cough is a highly contagious respiratory tract infection. In some people, it's marked by a severe hacking cough followed by a high-pitched intake of breath that sounds like whoop. The classic symptoms of pertussis are a paroxysmal cough, aspiratory whoop, and fainting and/or vomiting after coughing.

It starts like a cold, with congestion and upper respiratory symptoms, and then progresses to a cough. You have fits of coughing that are so severe that you can't stop or catch your breath. It's that severe, extended cough and uncontrolled fits of cough that trigger physicians to be worried about pertussis and try to confirm the diagnosis. The symptoms are pretty nonspecific, and so doctors don't always suspect it. Pertussis is high on the list if that whoop is present. The "whoop" sounds like a sharp gasping intake of breath after all the air has been coughed out of your lungs.

After around 1 to 2 weeks, the dry, irritating cough evolves into coughing spells. During a coughing spell, which can last for more than a minute, the child can turn red or purple. At the end of a spell, the child may make a quality of a whooping sound when breathing in or may vomit. Although many infants and younger children who become infected with pertussis will develop the characteristic coughing episodes and accompanying whoop, not all will. And sometimes infants don't cough or whoop as older kids do. Infants may look as if they're gasping for air with a reddened face and may actually stop breathing for a few seconds during particularly bad spells.

The doctor will listen to your child's cough, and swab their nose to test the cells for the pertussis bacteria. If the doctor suspects that your child has whooping cough, he won't wait for test results, though, as these can take some time. He'll go ahead and give her an antibiotic to fight the infection right away. Once a diagnosis of whooping cough is confirmed, all of the child's close contacts will need to be treated with antibiotics as well.

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