Whooping cough is still fairly rare in the United States, but it is becoming more common as people let their vaccinations lapse. Whooping cough is caused by a highly-contagious bacteria called Bordetella pertussis that infects your respiratory system. Since it is so contagious, it can rapidly spread throughout families, infecting both infants and the elderly.

This disease is most notable for causing extremely violent coughing fits that last for weeks, and it can lead to very serious complications like pneumonia. If you are concerned that you or your child has whooping cough, read on to see what to look for and what you can do to treat it.

What Are the Symptoms of Whooping Cough?

Whooping cough starts with normal cold symptoms, which last for around a week. You or your child may experience coughing, sneezing a runny nose and a headache. During this time, whooping cough is frequently misidentified as the common cold.

After the first week ends, the coughing rapidly becomes much worse. Coughing fits are extremely violent and can last for up to a minute. They are also sometimes accompanied by vomiting.

Children and adults will usually make a whooping sound after the coughing fit ends as they take a deep breath. Infants cannot breathe as deeply, so it is rarer for them to make the whooping sound — they usually breathe heavier and more rapidly instead.

Is Whooping Cough Dangerous?

Whooping cough can cause serious complications, and these complications are more likely in infants. Pneumonia is the most worrisome complication, as it sometimes requires hospitalization in order to treat. Chronic vomiting makes dehydration more likely, and the extreme coughing fits can make some of the blood vessels in the eyes burst.

How Can You Treat Whooping Cough?

Since whooping cough is caused by a bacteria, it can be treated using antibiotics. They can reduce the severity of your coughing fits and help you recover from the disease quicker. However, they are much more effective when taken early. That is why it is a good idea to visit an urgent care center as soon as possible if you suspect that you or your child has whooping cough. 

Of course, it is better to prevent whooping cough entirely instead of having to treat it. A whooping cough vaccine is available as part of a combination vaccine including diphtheria and tetanus.

The whooping cough vaccine for kids is referred to as DTaP and the version for adults is referred to as Tdap. DTaP is a five-shot regimen that begins when a child is two months old, and then Tdap is given as a booster when the child is 11. Adults should continue to receive Tdap booster shots every ten years in order to ensure they maintain their resistance against whooping cough.

Note, however, that infants can still get whooping cough even if they are receiving their DTaP shots on time. Their immune systems have difficulty building antibodies quickly. In order to ensure your child is fully protected against developing whooping cough, you should also ensure that your family and your child's caregivers are up-to-date on their whooping cough vaccine — this prevents them from catching it and spreading it to your child.

While whooping cough is a serious respiratory disease that can potentially lead to pneumonia, you can minimize your risk of catching it by vaccinating. If you or your child do develop whooping cough, visit an urgent care center as soon as possible — starting antibiotics early helps to keep symptoms to a minimum, which reduces the risk of developing complications.