Whooping Cough Symptoms & Causes

Whooping Cough Symptoms & Causes

Distinguishing Whooping Cough From Similar Infections

Whooping cough is a serious infection that results in fits of severe coughing. While it is more common in young children, it can affect people of any age. Due to the similarity of symptoms, it can be difficult to distinguish whooping cough from other common infections such as a cold or the flu. Since the treatments for these diseases are much different, it is important to have a thorough understanding of whooping cough’s signs and symptoms.

Infection and Early Stages

Whooping cough has a relatively long incubation period of between seven and 10 days. During this time, the bacteria is multiplying in the body but no symptoms are displayed. This can make it especially difficult to pin down the source of infection.

It is very easy to be infected with whooping cough. The bacteria that causes whooping cough multiplies in the throat and lungs and is carried in tiny droplets of saliva or mucus when the person coughs. Anyone nearby who inhales these invisible droplets may become infected. As with all disease, the likelihood of infection depends on the amount of exposure and the immunity of the person exposed.

Children receive a vaccine for whooping cough that protects them from infection until adulthood. However, this vaccine eventually wears off, especially if the person is never exposed to the actual infection. As a result, middle aged and older adults can also become infected even if they received the vaccine as children.

Parents should be advised that the whooping cough vaccine is generally not effective until the third shot. This means that very young children or those who have not completed the entire treatment are most at risk for infection.

After the incubation period ends, the early symptoms of whooping cough are almost indistinguishable from that of the cold or flu.

Early symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Red eyes
  • Coughing
  • Nasal congestion
Late Stages and Complications

Generally, whooping cough is not something a person recovers from quickly. After a week or longer, symptoms progress to the late stages and become distinguishable from the cold or flu. Late stage symptoms are marked by severe and uncontrollable coughing. This is the body’s natural response to the heavy buildup of mucus in the throat and lungs.

The cough is sometimes accompanied by a distinct “whoop” sound on the next breath. This is caused by the struggle to intake air between coughs despite tightness and inflammation in the airway. It is also the sound that gives the disease its name. Looking for the sound is not the best indication of the disease because it does not consistently display.

The cough may become so severe that it produces several more serious complications that are actually the result of the cough and not the infection itself. Episodes of severe coughing may induce vomiting, headache and extreme fatigue. Sometimes the force of a cough is enough to break small blood vessels in the eyes. This can result in disturbing, but generally not harmful, red splotches in the white of the eyeball. In especially severe cases, coughing may result in rib fractures.

Differences Between Ages

Whooping cough tends to display much differently in adults compared to children. Children almost always have a more severe case and are more likely to suffer complications that require hospitalization. In most adults, whooping cough resolves itself and symptoms never become more serious than that of a severe cold. Rarely do adults need to be hospitalized for whooping cough.

Young children are a different matter. The cough in children is likely to be very severe and parents should watch for complications. The most dangerous complications are breathing problems. Children may cough so severely that they cannot take in enough air and may turn blue. Infants may not cough at all, but may stop breathing entirely. This can be especially true in children that already suffer breathing complications such as asthma.

Children and adults who display severe symptoms or complications from whooping cough may require hospitalization. It is important to distinguish the infection from other common infections so that the appropriate treatment action can be taken.

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