Symptoms of whooping cough

Synonyms in a broader sense

Medical: pertussis

English: pertussis


Whooping cough is an infectious disease of the respiratory tract that is caused by bacteria. In children, this disease is characterized by coughing attacks with numerous short, pronounced coughs. Often these coughing attacks end in vomiting.

Whooping cough usually affects children, but adults who either have not been vaccinated or have never had whooping cough can also develop the disease.
Unfortunately, immunity against these pathogens does not last for life and it can also affect adults who have had whooping cough before. The number of infections with whooping cough among adults is currently increasing again (as of 2017).

General symptoms of whooping cough in the child

Whooping cough has several stages in children.

In the first few days after infection, only harmless cold symptoms appear, which may be accompanied by a fever. The disease is characterized by severe coughing attacks with subsequent difficult, noisy inhalation. A very deep inhalation by the child is followed by several short, barking and pressed coughs. The face initially turns reddish due to the exertion and can then turn into a blue tone. This is due to a lack of oxygen caused by the child being unable to take enough normal, lung-filling breaths during these coughing fits. If left untreated, the disease lasts for several weeks.

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General symptoms of whooping cough in adults

Adults can also get whooping cough.

In adults the disease is usually milder than in children. The division into stages is usually not that easy to recognize. The disease often comes along with it severe flu symptoms and is therefore overlooked by treating doctors. The flu symptoms usually consist of severe pain in the limbs and feeling sick, fever and strong cough with irritation of the upper respiratory tract with possibly occurring Sore throat. However, milder courses that resemble a cold are also known.

Symptoms after whooping cough vaccination

After a whooping cough shot, it can become too Vaccination reactions come. The vaccination reactions are an expression of the immune system's response to the vaccination given. Antibodies are formed by the immune system against components of the bacterial shell of the bacterium Bordatella pertussis, which are contained in the vaccine, which can later fight off when the bacterium penetrates the body.
Common vaccine reactions are Reddening of the skin at the injection site, Muscle pain after vaccination at the injection site, which are often described as sore muscles and fever. The symptoms appear in the first 72 hours after vaccination and usually disappear on their own after a few days.

The fever can be with leg compresses and plenty of fluids, or with medication Paracetamol or Ibuprofen be treated. With drug therapy, the dosage should be adjusted to the weight of the child. With rapid increases in temperature, it can in rare cases Febrile seizures come. In very rare cases vaccinations have been made allergic reaction described. These are caused by incompatibility of individual ingredients in the vaccination. The reaction usually occurs immediately after vaccinationso that the attending physician or medical staff can react. The likelihood of an allergic reaction is very low.

Symptoms despite a whooping cough shot

With whooping cough vaccination there are so-called "Vaccination failure ". This means people who Although the vaccine was given, the antibodies do not produce enough antibodies to guarantee immune protection. These people may be infected with the pathogen despite having been vaccinated. Often However, the infection is milder than in non-vaccinated people, so that the vaccination definitely pays off here too. Often, if vaccinated, symptoms are mistakenly diagnosed as flu. If you have persistent complaints or symptoms that are similar to a whooping cough infection, vaccination failure should always be considered. When diagnosing whooping cough, in contrast to the flu infection, antibiotics can be used successfully.

Course of symptoms in whooping cough

Whooping cough has several stages, especially in children.

The first stage, which usually lasts for one to two weeks, the so-called catarrhal stage, is characterized by simple cold symptoms associated with conjunctivitis (Conjunctivitis) can go hand in hand.

This is followed by the convulsive stage lasting two to six weeks. This is where the actual symptoms of whooping cough infection come to the fore. It is characterized by severe coughing attacks that often occur at night with the tongue out. After the coughing fits, the resulting lack of oxygen during coughing can turn the lips and mouth area blue. After the coughing attack, there is a loud, difficult inhalation, which can also lead to a brief respiratory arrest, especially in infants. Usually thick mucus is vomited or choked out. At this stage, babies and toddlers with whooping cough should be admitted to the hospital in order to detect and treat possible respiratory failure at an early stage.

The stage decrementi, which usually lasts over a week, represents the healing phase. However, the coughing fits can persist.

At any stage, there may be attacks of fever due to the immune reaction. Typically, however, the fever is in the catarrhal stage, but very rarely in the convulsive stage. The course of the disease lasts for several weeks if left untreated.
A complication that can result from increased coughing is a so-called pneumothorax. In this case, cracks in the pleura or lungs cause the affected lungs to be removed from the ribs, so that these lungs can no longer expand when inhaled. She no longer takes part in breathing. Symptoms of a pneumothorax are sudden back pain, shortness of breath and possibly a blue discoloration of the lips or the surrounding skin due to a lack of oxygen in the blood.

Further general information on the subject can be found at Cough in child

Whooping cough with fever

Since whooping cough is a severe infection with the Bordatella pertussis bacterium, a strong immune response and possibly a fever can be expected. Fever is usually more likely to occur in the first stage. At this stage, the symptoms typical of whooping cough are not very pronounced. In the second stage, the stage with the typical symptoms of whooping cough infection, there are very few fever attacks. Exceptions confirm the rule here. In the healing stage, the disease should regress. Renewed fever attacks are not the rule here.

Whooping cough with rash

The whooping cough infection does not a classic rash. The redness on the skin may be small hemorrhages in the finest skin vessels. These skin vessels burst when the pressure in the chest increases as a result of the increased coughing. These bleeding are not threatening and are reduced within a few days after the coughing stimulus has subsided. In addition to the skin manifestations, it can too Bleeding in the eye come. These also arise from the pressure when coughing from the bursting of small vessels in the eye and recede by themselves. Because of its location in the eye, this bleeding can look worrying, but is usually neither threatening nor painful and is not noticed by the children.

Whooping cough with a sore throat

The long episodes of coughing fits irritate the entire airways. This also includes the neck. If you cough a lot, that's it The mucous membrane in the throat and pharynx is so stressed that it can lead to a sore throat. When looking at the throat, you will notice some redness. This pain can be treated with cold drinks or ice as well as medication with paracetamol or ibuprofen. If you have a bad sore throat or if your airways are swollen, you should see a doctor immediately.


The most common complications include bronchitis and pneumonia, which, however, are caused by other pathogens. Other possible complications are:

  • Otitis media
  • Lung damage (bursting of alveoli)
  • Seizures / epilepsy


Whooping cough is caused by a bacteria called Bordatella pertussis. The bacteria only multiply on the surface of the respiratory tract.
The pathogen itself and the toxins it releases lead to damage to this surface.
More precisely, the so-called ciliated epithelium is damaged. The ciliated epithelium is normally used to transport foreign bodies (e.g. dust) out of the body. This is particularly effective when coughing. The fine hairs always hit in the direction in which the dirt should be carried, i.e. outwards.

The bacteria are transmitted by droplet infection, for example when coughing or sneezing. The transmission takes place only from person to person. The disease then breaks out in around 70 percent of the cases. Young children are most at risk.


Is the disease already in second stage the diagnosis is easy to make based on the coughing fits.
The bacteria If necessary, a throat swab (e.g. the Nasal mucosa) be detected. Formed by the body antibody against the pathogen can only be detected in the blood after 2 - 4 weeks after the onset of the disease.


Of the whooping cough will with Antibiotics treated, whereby the infection is interrupted. Complications are also less common with antibiosis. Infants at the stage characterized by coughing fits should be observed and treated in hospital. Preparations that stop coughs or dissolve phlegm do not help here.

The infection with whooping cough usually heals without consequences, but those caused by the cough are Breathing pauses and the lack of oxygen during and after the coughing attacks are dangerous. These can be fatal, especially in infants. That's the reason why Children admitted to hospital with an acute whooping cough infection should be. Breathing pauses can be noticed early and treated early.


Since this disease is a serious disease, a dead vaccine against whooping cough is available. According to the STIKO (permanent vaccination commission of the Robert Koch Institute) vaccination calendar, basic immunization starts after the child is 2 months old. Further vaccinations are necessary during the course. To avoid whooping cough, all infants should be vaccinated by 3 months of age. Mostly there is no lifelong absolutely safe vaccination protection, but the course of the disease is lessened.

It is particularly important to protect yourself against the disease as an adult. Infected adults can unwittingly pass the infection on to childrenwho do not yet have adequate immune protection. The immune protection is guaranteed by a dead vaccine. It is usually given to children after they are 2 months old, but if the vaccination appointments are missed, it can also be vaccinated at any later point in time. In adulthood, a booster vaccination is necessary once in a lifetime after basic immunization in childhood.

Immunity to whooping cough can be demonstrated by the number of antibodies in the blood. This is an antibody detection against the bacterium Bordatella pertussis. Vaccination of the population serves to close existing vaccination gaps. This ensures protection against the pathogen in large parts of the population and epidemics occur less frequently. The pathogen can no longer spread as quickly.

If infants or children are not vaccinated and have come into contact with an infectious person, a so-called chemoprophylaxis can take place. It will be a Antibiotic given to prevent or relieve the onset of the disease.