How is a whooping cough treated?

Treatment of whooping cough is most effective when started early in the disease process, preferably before the onset of any violent coughing attacks. Treatment of whooping cough includes:

  • Antibiotic medications to clear the bacteria from the body

  • Cool-mist vaporizer to moisten the airways

  • Drinking plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration

  • Hospitalization for infants with whooping cough. Older children and adults may also require hospitalization, depending on the severity of the case and their general health, and if complications have developed.

  • Intravenous administration of fluids to prevent or treat dehydration, especially in infants.

  • Rest to help your body recover during the course of illness

  • Supplemental oxygen may be needed to treat hypoxia, a lack of oxygen in the body’s tissues.

  • Thick phlegm may need to be medically suctioned from the airways.

What are the possible complications of whooping cough?

Some complications of whooping cough can develop because of the violent coughing episodes. They can include:

  • Broken blood vessels in the eyes and on the skin
  • Fractured ribs
  • Hernia
  • Interrupted sleep
  • Otitis media
  • Weight loss

    In some people, especially infants and younger children, complications of whooping cough can be severe, even life threatening.  Complications can include:

    • Brain damage

    • Dehydration

    • Lung damage

    • Pneumonia

    • Respiratory arrest   

    • Seizures

    You can help minimize your risk of serious complications by following the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you (or your child).


    1. Pertussis (Whooping Cough) Surveillance and Reporting. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
    2. Pertussis (Whooping Cough) Signs and Symptoms. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
    3. Pertussis. PubMed Health, a service of the NLM from the NIH.
    4. Feigin RD, Cherry JD, Demmler-Harrison GJ, Kaplan SL (Eds), Textbook of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, 6th ed. Philadelphia: Saunders, 2009.
    5. Bope ET, Kellerman RD (Eds.) Conn’s Current Therapy. Philadelphia: Saunders, 2013.
    6. Domino FJ (Ed.) Five Minute Clinical Consult. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2013.
    7. Bettiol S, Thompson MJ, Roberts NW, et al. Symptomatic treatment of the cough in whooping cough. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2010; :CD003257.

    What is whooping cough?

    Whooping cough is a highly contagious disease caused by a bacterial infection of the respiratory tract. Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. The hallmark symptoms of whooping cough are violent coughing fits followed by a whooping sound made as a person gasps for air.

    Whooping cough is highly preventable through vaccination.... Read more about whooping coughintroduction


    What are the symptoms of whooping cough?

    The symptoms of whooping cough typically begin seven to 10 days after becoming infected with the bacteria that cause whooping cough, although the incubation period can last several weeks. This means that you can be infected with the bacteria that cause whooping cough, Bordetella pertussis, and not develop symptoms for several weeks. An infected person is most contagious during the early ... Read more about whooping coughsymptoms


    What causes whooping cough?

    Whooping cough is caused by an infection of the respiratory tract by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. Whooping cough spreads from person to person when someone with the disease coughs, talks, or sneezes. This shoots droplets contaminated with B. pertussis bacteria into the air where they can be inhaled by others. Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a highly contagious disease. An ... Read more about whooping coughcauses

    Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 30, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

    This Article is Filed Under: Infections and Contagious Diseases

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