What is Whooping Cough?
As you may notice as you read on I decided to cover the “Adult whooping cough and Infant whooping cough”.
Whooping cough (pertussis) is a highly contagious respiratory tract infection. In many people, it’s marked by a severe hacking cough followed by a high-pitched intake of breath that sounds like “whoop.”
Before the vaccine was developed, whooping cough was considered a childhood disease. Now whooping cough primarily affects children too young to have completed the full course of vaccinations and teenagers and adults whose immunity has faded.
Deaths associated with whooping cough are rare but most commonly occur in infants. That’s why it’s so important for pregnant women — and other people who will have close contact with an infant — to be vaccinated against whooping cough.
Once you become infected with whooping cough, it takes about seven to 10 days for signs and symptoms to appear, though it can sometimes take longer. They’re usually mild at first and resemble those of a common cold:
- Runny nose
- Nasal congestion
- Red, watery eyes
After a week or two, signs and symptoms worsen. Thick mucus accumulates inside your airways, causing uncontrollable coughing. Severe and prolonged coughing attacks may:
- Provoke vomiting
- Result in a red or blue face
- Cause extreme fatigue
- End with a high-pitched “whoop” sound during the next breath of air
However, many people don’t develop the characteristic whoop. Sometimes, a persistent hacking cough is the only sign that an adolescent or adult has whooping cough.
Infants may not cough at all. Instead, they may struggle to breathe, or they may even temporarily stop breathing.
When to see a doctor:
Call your doctor if prolonged coughing spells cause you or your child to:
- Turn red or blue
- Seem to be struggling to breathe or have noticeable pauses in breathing
- Inhale with a whooping sound
Whooping cough is caused by a type of bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, tiny germ-laden droplets are sprayed into the air and breathed into the lungs of anyone who happens to be nearby.
The whooping cough vaccine you receive as a child eventually wears off. This leaves most teenagers and adults susceptible to the infection during an outbreak — and there continue to be regular outbreaks.
Infants who are younger than age 12 months who are unvaccinated or haven’t received the full set of recommended vaccines have the highest risk for severe complications and death.
Teens and adults often recover from whooping cough with no problems. When complications occur, they tend to be side effects of the strenuous coughing, such as:
- Bruised or cracked ribs
- Abdominal hernias
- Broken blood vessels in the skin or the whites of your eyes
In infants — especially those under 6 months of age — complications from whooping cough are more severe and may include:
- Slowed or stopped breathing
- Dehydration or weight loss due to feeding difficulties
- Brain damage
Because infants and toddlers are at greatest risk of complications from whooping cough, they’re more likely to need treatment in a hospital. Complications can be life-threatening for infants younger than 6 months old.
The best way to prevent whooping cough is with the pertussis vaccine, which doctors often give in combination with vaccines against two other serious diseases — diphtheria and tetanus. Doctors recommend beginning vaccination during infancy.
The vaccine consists of a series of five injections, typically given to children at these ages:
- 2 months
- 4 months
- 6 months
- 15 to 18 months
- 4 to 6 years
Vaccine side effects:
Side effects of the vaccine are usually mild and may include fever, crankiness, headache, fatigue, or soreness at the site of the injection.
- Adolescents. Because immunity from the pertussis vaccine tends to wane by age 11, doctors recommend a booster shot at that age to protect against whooping cough (pertussis), diphtheria, and tetanus.
- Adults. Some varieties of every-10-year tetanus and diphtheria vaccine also include protection against whooping cough (pertussis). This vaccine will also reduce the risk of transmitting whooping cough to infants.
- Pregnant women. Health experts now recommend that pregnant women receive the pertussis vaccine between 27 and 36 weeks of gestation. This may also give some protection to the infant during the first few months of life.
If you’ve been exposed to someone who has whooping cough, your doctor may recommend antibiotics to protect against infection if you:
- Are a health care provider
- Are pregnant
- Are younger than age 12 months
- Have a health condition that could put you at risk of severe illness or complications, such as a weakened immune system or asthma
- Live with someone who has whooping cough
- Live with someone who is at high risk of developing severe illness or complications from a whooping cough infection.
Diagnosing whooping cough in its early stages can be difficult because the signs and symptoms resemble those of other common respiratory illnesses, such as a cold, the flu, or bronchitis.
Sometimes, doctors can diagnose whooping cough simply by asking about symptoms and listening to the cough. Medical tests may be needed to confirm the diagnosis. Such tests may include:
- A nose or throat culture and test. Your doctor takes a swab or suction sample from the area where the nose and throat meet (nasopharynx). The sample is then checked for evidence of the presence of whooping cough bacteria.
- Blood tests. A blood sample may be drawn and sent to a lab to check your white blood cell count, because white blood cells help the body fight infections, such as whooping cough. A high white blood cell count typically indicates the presence of infection or inflammation. This is a general test and not specific for whooping cough.
- A chest X-ray. Your doctor may order an X-ray to check for the presence of inflammation or fluid in the lungs, which can occur when pneumonia complicates whooping cough and other respiratory infections.
Infants are typically hospitalized for treatment because whooping cough is more dangerous for that age group. If your child can’t keep down liquids or food, intravenous fluids may be necessary. Your child will also be isolated from others to prevent the infection from spreading.
Treatment for older children and adults usually can be managed at home.
Antibiotics kill the bacteria causing whooping cough and help speed recovery. Exposed family members may be given preventive antibiotics.
Unfortunately, not much is available to relieve the cough. Over-the-counter cough medicines, for instance, have little effect on whooping cough and are discouraged.
Lifestyle and home remedies:
The following tips on dealing with coughing spells apply to anyone being treated for whooping cough at home:
- Get plenty of rest. A cool, quiet, and dark bedroom may help you relax and rest better.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Water, juice, and soups are good choices. In children, especially, watch for signs of dehydration, such as dry lips, crying without tears, and infrequent urination.
- Eat smaller meals. To avoid vomiting after coughing, eat smaller, more frequent meals rather than large ones.
- Clean the air. Keep your home free of irritants that can trigger coughing spells, such as tobacco smoke and fumes from fireplaces.
- Prevent transmission. Cover your cough and wash your hands often; if you must be around others, wear a mask
Symptoms in adults:
Adults tend to experience less severe symptoms of whooping cough compared with children. The reason for this is that adults have built up immunity from previous infections and vaccinations.
Bacteria called Bordetella pertussis cause whooping cough. These bacteria spread through the air when someone who is infected coughs or sneezes. Symptoms usually develop 5 to 10 days after exposure, but some people might not develop symptoms for several weeks.
Whooping cough develops in three stages:
Stage 1: People are highly contagious in the early stages of the disease. At first, whooping cough causes mild cold-like symptoms that last for 1 to 2 weeks, such as:
- a runny nose
- a low-grade fever
- a mild cough
- watery eyes
Stage 2: After some time, people can develop a severe, persistent cough that leaves them gasping for air. The classic “whooping” sound occurs when people inhale sharply to catch their breath after a coughing fit.
People are still contagious at this point, and stage 2 symptoms may last anywhere from 1 to 6 weeks.
Stage 3: In the final phase, the cough gradually improves, and coughing fits occur less often. At this point, people are no longer contagious, but they run the risk of developing other infections, which can slow down the recovery process.
A doctor can diagnose whooping cough by looking at a person’s medical history and current symptoms.
Doctors might sometimes misdiagnose whooping cough as a common cold or another respiratory infection because whooping cough in adults does not typically cause severe symptoms.
If an adult is experiencing a persistent cough, the doctor may recommend further medical tests to diagnose the problem. These tests might include a nasopharyngeal swab, which involves a doctor collecting a sample of mucus through the nose to analyze for B. pertussis bacteria.
Adults can develop secondary complications from whooping cough. Violent coughing fits can cause fainting or fractured ribs.
Other potential complications of whooping cough in adults include:
- difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, called insomnia
- difficulty breathing while sleeping, called sleep apnea
- unintentional weight loss
- eye infections
Treatment depends on the duration of the illness and the severity of its symptoms. Whooping cough treatment usually involves antibiotic therapy.
Early antibiotic treatment may reduce symptom severity, speed up recovery time, and prevent people from transmitting the bacteria. A healthcare professional might prescribe antibiotics for other members of the household as well.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), antibacterial treatments are most effective during the first 2–3 weeks of infection or before coughing fits begin. However, people rarely receive treatment early enough to experience these benefits.
Home remedies for whooping cough include:
- staying hydrated
- using a mist vaporizer
- practicing proper hand hygiene
- eating frequent small meals rather than three large meals to avoid vomiting
- avoiding coughing triggers, such as smoke, strong chemicals, and allergens
Whooping cough does not respond to traditional cough medication. The American Lung Association advises against treating whooping cough with cough medications.
Recovering from whooping cough can take several weeks, and a cough can continue to linger for many months.
Whooping cough is highly contagious, and whooping cough vaccinations wear off as people get older.
Adults who have not received the whooping cough booster vaccine Tdap (tetanus-diphtheria-acellular pertussis) have a higher risk of contracting whooping cough.
Other factors that increase a person’s risk of getting whooping cough include:
- being in close contact with someone who has whooping cough
- having a weakened immune system
- being pregnant
Adults can protect themselves and their children from whooping cough by having vaccines against the disease.
There are two types of whooping cough vaccine:
- DTaP for infants and young children
- Tdap for adolescents and adults
The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that infants and children receive doses of the DTaP vaccine at the following ages:
- 2 months
- 4 months
- 6 months
- 15–18 months
- 4–6 years
The initial round of DTaP vaccines wears off over time, so people should get the Tdap booster vaccination to maintain immunity.
The CDC recommends the following Tdap vaccination schedule for everyone:
- One booster vaccine between the ages of 11 and 12 years.
- One dose of Tdap for adults who have never received the vaccine.
- One Tdap vaccine during the third trimester of every pregnancy.
In general, these vaccines are safe for most people. However, whooping cough vaccines can cause temporary side effects in some people, such as:
- soreness or swelling near the injection site
- loss of appetite
- a headache
- body aches
Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a highly contagious bacterial infection that affects the respiratory tract.
Although whooping cough usually produces milder symptoms in adults, it can cause severe illness in infants and young children.
There are two forms of vaccines that protect against whooping cough. The DTaP vaccine protects infants and young children, but it wears off over time. Adolescents and adults can get a booster vaccine called Tdap.
Herbs for Whooping Cough Treatment:
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a very commonly used herb in many ailments. Its use as a natural remedy for whooping cough is based on its antibiotic, antiseptic, and expectorant properties found in its high content of volatile oil.
Care should be taken when using this herb as it has hypotensive properties which make it a mild sedative.
It is suggested that echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia, Echinacea purpurea) is a good natural herb for whooping cough because it eases the severity of the symptom and may shorten the length of the typical 6-week cycle of whooping cough.
It is one of the most popular herbal supplements on the market today and the most commonly used herb in America.
It can be found on the shelves of almost any health store around the world.
Echinacea is usually available in capsules form and the therapeutic dose is 500 to 1,000 milligrams up to 3 times daily.
Used for a large variety of common illnesses, elecampane (Inula helenium) is suited as a natural herb for pertussis due to its ability to inhibit phlegm production, a major symptom of whooping cough.
This herb has long been used by herbalists to treat coughs specifically associated with whooping cough.
Used as a natural herb for whooping cough, marshmallow (Althea Officinalis) helps the body to expel extra fluid such as mucus; soothing cough as well as rid of the excess mucus build-up caused by whooping cough.
It overall is a great use for its ability to soothe many of the symptoms as well as act as an antibiotic for pertussis.
The genus name Tussilago means “cough dispeller”. The name “tussilago” is derived from the Latin “tussis”, meaning cough, and ago, meaning to expel.
Only short-term use of this as a herbal remedy for pertussis is recommended due to its level of pyrrolizidine alkaloids.
The primary purpose of English ivy (Hedera helix) is as a sedative effect which can reduce the number of attacks.
English ivy has been approved by the German Commission E as a treatment for respiratory catarrhs and chronic bronchial symptoms.
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is a soothing, flavorful herb, and seems to have an anti-tussive effect that suppresses coughing.
Licorice may cause complications for people with high blood pressure, and should be used with caution.
Wild Cherry Seeds
Wild cherry seeds (Prunus serotina), like English ivy, has a sedative effect.
The herb has a calming effect on the respiratory system and helps to ease the pressure and strain associated with a serious cough like whooping cough.
Great Mullein (Verbascum thapus) is a great herbal remedy for whooping cough as it has so far shown to have no known toxicity.
Great mullein is very widely used as a natural herb for pertussis as it is proven to help ease cough and many respiratory disorders.
It is an expectorant great for mucous membranes and glands, as well as the lungs. Studies show this to be used as an ideal antibiotic and anti-inflammatory.
Worldwide, whooping cough affects around 16 million people yearly. One estimate for 2013 stated it resulted in about 61,000 deaths – down from 138,000 deaths in 1990. Another estimated 195,000 child deaths yearly from the disease worldwide.
Please always consult with your doctor if you have any symptoms of respiratory disease.
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