Elderly man coughing while cover his mouth with his hand | Feature | What Happens If Whooping Cough Is Left Untreated | What Does Whooping Cough Sound Like

Whooping cough gets its name from the characteristic “whoop” sound that comes with the cough. It manifests as a loud coughing spell with intervals of deep inhalation, the whoop.

What Causes It?

The primary cause of whooping cough is an airway infection by a bacteria known as Bordetella pertussis. While it is frequently associated with this infectious source, it is not uncommon for other respiratory infections to develop whooping cough.

Whooping cough is commonly prevalent among infants and children whose immunities are still getting accustomed to the environment around them. Additionally, those who have never received the vaccination against pertussis are at a higher risk.

Classic whooping cough scarcely occurs among adults, primarily because most have received the vaccination and its follow-up booster shots. However, adults whose immunity has waned are likely to develop this condition.

How Would I Recognize a Whooping Cough?

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Signs of underlying infection are not apparent until a week to ten days following bacterial infection. The first stages of the disease resemble the common cold:

  • Mild fever
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Slight difficulty in breathing
  • Mild cough

After this phase, the characteristically sounding cough occurs. Infected individuals typically have coughing bouts lasting about a minute, which generally end with the resounding “whoop.” These spells can occur together and throughout intervals in the day.

The Clinical Course

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Based on the division on the appearance of the signs of whooping cough, there are three phases of the disease process.

  • Catarrhal phase: This is the initial phase where the patient has a runny nose, fever, experiences fatigue, and has a mild cough. This phase lasts for a week to ten days.
  • Paroxysmal phase: The second phase manifests characteristic intense episodes of coughing. While the cough is dry, it is common to observe thick mucus release during some paroxysms during a whooping attack. This stage can last anywhere from one to six weeks based on whether the patient receives treatment.

Convalescent phase: This is the recovery phase. It may still include bouts of cough. This is usually mild when compared to classic whooping cough. Medications can help reach this stage quicker. It is possible to be in the convalescent phase for months.

How is Whooping Cough Managed?

It is essential to identify underlying pertussis early due to its ability to spread relatively easily. Since sneezing and coughing are some of the presenting signs, infection spread occurs before the actual cough presents itself.

Early diagnosis can also enable early treatment, which can help prevent serious complications such as pneumonia, dehydration, seizures, hernias, and bruising/cracking of the ribs.
Most trained clinicians can diagnose whooping cough just by registering the patient’s history and the sound of the cough. A healthcare professional will take a nose or throat swab to confirm the diagnosis in most cases. Infants and children could need hospitalization due to the severe course pertussis infection might take. Adults receive a course of antibiotics which often help improve symptoms immediately.

Preventing The Whooping Cough

Severe infection with Bordetella pertussis is preventable through the DPT vaccine. This immunization is often why severe illness mainly occurs among children and babies. Adults who do not receive their booster shots are at a higher risk of severe infection.

Adults should track their symptoms as soon as they start. It is also helpful to record the sound of your cough. This data might help with an early diagnosis. Moreover, it can enable teleconsultation to initiate antibiotic management. 

Watch this video to know what this cough sounds like:

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