Whooping cough symptoms

Whooping cough, also called Pertussis, is a clinical condition caused by Bordetella pertussis. It is a disease that is exclusive to humans and typically lasts for a period of 6 weeks. It is common in infants and children but can be seen in adults as well, though the incidence has significantly dropped in the recent past.

In this article we shall take a look at the symptoms that patients who develop whooping cough suffer from.


Once the patient picks up the infection, it takes up to 12 days for the symptoms to start to show. Once the symptoms commence, the entire course of the illness takes around 6 weeks. It is divided into 3 phases, each of them lasting a period of around 2-4 weeks or so.

Phase 1 – Catarrhal phase

This is the phase that is very similar to an upper respiratory tract infection. Patients may have a low grade fever, runny nose (rhinorrhoea), nasal congestion and sneezing. During this phase, patients can actively pass on the infection to others and are deemed ‘infectious’. After around 2 weeks or so of these symptoms, the second phase begins.

Phase 2 – Paroxysmal phase

During this stage, patients develop a characteristic cough, episodes of which can last up to a few minutes sometimes. It can start off as a mild cough that only gets a lot more severe as the disease progresses. In children, the cough is followed by a sudden burst of deep inspiration which produces the characteristic ‘whoop’ that is described in whooping cough. This sound occurs because air enters the lungs through a partially open airway that is still recovering following the bout of coughing. Patients may lose their appetite and become dehydrated as a result. In addition, the constant prolonged bouts of cough can cause the patient to be exhausted at the end of it.

This ‘whooping’ feature may not be typical of infants under the age of 6 months. Instead, they may demonstrate a short period of apnoea instead where the breathing halts for a few seconds before recommencing again.

If bouts of cough last a long while, children may vomit (post-tussive vomiting). The constant coughing can also cause conjunctival injection (redness) along with redness of the face as well.

The paroxysmal stage lasts a period of around 4 weeks as well, following which the next phase begins.

Phase 3 – Convalescent phase

This is the recovery phase where patients may continue to have a cough while convalescing.


Whooping cough can result in a number of complications in infants, especially if they have not been vaccinated. Complications can include –

  • Pneumonia
  • Apnoea
  • Convulsions
  • Death

In adults, the coughing episodes can sometimes be severe enough to cause rib fractures. Patients can lose weight during the illness and can even lose consciousness due to the coughing fits. These complications are rarer than is seen in infants and are also rare if the patient has been vaccinated.

Comments are closed.