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Whooping Cough Symptoms in Kids

Pediatrics and Child Health

Whooping cough, or Pertussis, is a highly contagious respiratory infection that primarily affects infants and young children. With the introduction of the Pertussis vaccine, the number of cases had significantly declined, but since then the incidence of whooping cough has increase due to falling vaccine rates and also occurs in children too young to have completed the vaccine cycle and adolescents and adults whose immunity has faded. Whooping cough symptoms unfold in stages, the disease taking 1 to 3 weeks to incubate and lasting upward of 6 to 10 weeks. Here are the symptoms of whooping cough, according to each stage.

Whooping Cough: First Stage

Signs and symptoms of whooping cough come on gradually at first, resembling a mild common cold. This might include a runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing, mild coughing, red or watery eyes, and a low-grade fever. Typically, these symptoms will go on for a week or two, and this is also the time when the infected child is most contagious.

Whooping Cough: Acute Stage

After that first week or two, the child’s cough symptoms tend to worsen, a condition highlighted by severe and prolonged coughing attacks. Bursts of uncontrollable, often violent coughing make it temporarily difficult to breathe and may end with a high-pitched “whoop” sound as the child attempts to suck in the next breath of air. These coughing fits typically bring up thick phlegm, result in a red or blue face, and can even provoke vomiting. The cycle of coughing also leads to extreme fatigue in the child. In children, the cough can be instigated by many different factors, including feeding, crying, or playing. This phase can last for several weeks.

Whooping Cough: Stage Three, or Recovery

Things usually begin to settle down by the fourth week, with the vomiting and the whooping part of the cough easing first. The child will probably feel stronger but can suffer a setback if a cold or other respiratory illness develops. The cough usually decreases around the sixth week, but in some cases it can linger for the next month or two.

If you suspect your child has whooping cough, you need to see your pediatrician right away, as this illness can lead to pneumonia and thus needs to be monitored and properly treated. Your pediatrician will determine a specific course of treatment based on your child’s age, overall health, medical history, and the extent or severity of the condition.

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