Whooping cough, also called pertussis, is a very contagious respiratory illness caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. The condition is named for its distinct symptom of a hacking cough that is followed by a whooping, high-pitched gasp, which happens when a person struggles to take a breath. Most sufferers immediately want to know how to get rid of whooping cough.
Although there have long been effective universal vaccination and antibiotic treatment strategies available, whooping cough is still a dangerous illness. In a 2015 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 20,762 cases of whooping cough in the U.S., which was down from 32,971 cases in 2014 and more than 48,000 cases in 2012.
The condition is most common in infants, children, and adolescents, but whooping cough in adults can also occur.
There were a reported six deaths in children due to whooping cough in 2015. Whooping cough deaths are due to the effects of violent and sudden coughing, and most occur in babies younger than three months old.
Read on to learn more about the signs and symptoms, diagnostic methods, and complications associated with whooping cough. This article will also explain how to get rid of whooping cough naturally, including natural home remedies and precautions to use when treating the illness.
In This Article:
Signs and Symptoms of Whooping Cough (Pertussis)
Whooping cough symptoms will appear five to 10 days after exposure to the Bordetela pertussis bacterium. Up to 1 in 20 adults with a cough lasting longer than two to three weeks may actually have whooping cough.
There may also be dehydration due to vomiting, breathing difficulty, and the need to be admitted to the hospital.
There are three stages associated with the signs and symptoms of whooping cough:
1. The Catarrhal Stage
After an incubation period of five to 10 days, whooping cough symptoms will begin.
In general, the catarrhal whooping cough symptoms will begin similarly to a common cold, and will include mild symptoms such as tiredness, a runny and stuffed nose, low-grade fever, a sore throat, watery eyes, diarrhea, and an occasional or mild cough that is dry and irritating. There is also mucous membrane inflammation in one of the airways.
The above symptoms are common during the first week to 10 days of the illness, and they will then worsen before they improve.
2. The Paroxysmal Stage
Symptoms during the paroxysmal stage will include a cough that begins like other respiratory tract infections before becoming paroxysmal, which means sudden and intense.
The cough may also be more prominent at night, and the frequency and severity of the illness will become worse as the illness progresses. It typically lasts for two to six weeks, and as long as 10 weeks.
The cough becomes so rapid because it is hard to expel the thickened mucus from the lungs. These coughs will end with a whooping sound, as well as exhaustion and vomiting.
On average, there will be 15 whooping cough attacks every 24 hours, while the frequency increases during the first one to two weeks. The same frequency is maintained for the next two to three weeks before gradually decreasing.
Paroxysmal symptoms in teenagers and adults with whooping cough are less serious than in infants and young children, and are similar to those of bronchitis.
Most babies under six months of age will also not develop the characteristic “whoop” or paroxysmal coughing. Infants will also develop long and complicated recurring shallow breathing or pauses in breath, a slow heart rate, and cyanosis—turning blue due to lack of oxygen.
3. The Convalescent Stage
In this stage, there is a gradual recovery and fewer persistent coughing bouts, although the patient can still experience intense coughing attacks from time to time.
How long does whooping cough last in convalescent stage? The convalescent stage often lasts seven to 10 days, but it can also take three months or longer to completely be resolved.
How to Get Rid of Whooping Cough (Pertussis)
There are two vaccines often used for whooping cough prevention: Tdap and DTap. Both are combination vaccines for whooping cough, diphtheria, and tetanus.
Tdap is a booster for older children and adults and even pregnant women, while DTap is given to children younger than age seven.
Infants, especially vulnerable to infection, are admitted to the hospital for treatment and placed in an isolation ward to ensure the illness doesn’t spread. Those who cannot keep down food or fluids may require intravenous infusions.
Whooping cough treatment at home is often given to older children, teens, and adults.
This section will explain how to get rid of whooping cough with conventional treatment.
Antibiotics are given to kill the bacterium. These drugs can stop the patient from being contagious within five days after taking them.
The standard antibiotic whooping cough treatment is a full dose of erythromycin for two weeks. That being said, side effects and sensitivity to antibiotic therapy may decrease its compliance.
One study published in the journal Pediatrics in 2004 found that erythromycin caused gastrointestinal side effects like vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea in 41% of patients.
A review published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2007 also assessed the benefits and risks of antibiotics in the treatment of whooping cough, with 13 trials and 2,197 children and adults.
The results found no clinical differences in outcomes or relapse between short-term and long-term antibiotic use. Antibiotics were also not as effective when treating secondary whooping cough cases, likely because antibiotics are more effective when used within three weeks of the intense coughing.
Side effects were also reported with antibiotic use; however, these adverse effects would vary with each of the different antibiotics.
Infants too young to take the drug or patients that can’t tolerate erythromycin should be treated with clarithromycin or azithromycin instead.
Antibiotics are not given if whooping cough is not diagnosed until the later stages of the illness because the bacteria are likely gone at that point.
Oxygen may be given with a facemask when additional breathing help is required. A bulb syringe may also suction away mucus that has accumulated in the airways.
Corticosteroids are sometimes recommended if a child has severe symptoms. These drugs are given in combination with antibiotic therapy.
The corticosteroids will soothe whooping cough, as these powerful steroids are able to decrease inflammation in the airways, therefore making breathing much easier.
4. Cough Medicines
Some people may try over-the-counter cough medicines for whooping cough symptoms; however, doctors will advise against them since the cough is so severe and not much can be done about it at this time.
Coughing will also help expel the phlegm that is stuck in the airways.
Home Remedies to Treat Whooping Cough Naturally
The above medications can have a number of negative side effects. It may be a good idea to consider how more natural treatments could also cure whooping cough symptoms.
This section will show you how to get rid of whooping cough symptoms with 15 different natural home remedies.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) has antiviral and antibacterial properties that may be effective in the treatment of whooping cough. The curcumin in turmeric is particularly known for antibacterial effects.
Research also shows that curcumin’s antimicrobial properties have potential against a wide range of microorganisms, such as bacterium Bordetella pertussis.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) may also be able to fight the bacteria that cause respiratory infections like whooping cough. According to Ayurvedic medicine, ginger can boost the immune system by warming the body and eliminating toxins.
The antibacterial properties of ginger could potentially clean the lymphatic system and prevent toxin accumulation that makes people susceptible to respiratory infections.
Enjoy a couple of glasses of ginger tea daily for whooping cough relief.
3. Raw Honey
Raw honey might be another effective home remedy for whooping cough due to its antibacterial and antiseptic properties.
A systematic review published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2012 found that honey is just as effective as over-the-counter commercial cough syrups. The research suggests that a single dose of honey can decrease mucus secretion and coughing.
To relieve whooping cough attacks, take up to two teaspoons of raw honey before bed.
Experiments show that a specific chemical compound in garlic (Allium sativum) called allicin is highly effective at killing microorganisms responsible for infections, including whooping cough.
The antimicrobial, antiviral, and antibiotic properties of garlic might also be effective at improving whooping cough.
Use a teaspoon of raw garlic two to three times daily for around a week.
5. Oregano Oil
Oregano (Origanum vulgare) oil has antibacterial properties that support respiratory health and it works like a natural antibiotic, according to studies.
Research published in The Open Microbiology Journal in 2014 explains that plant extracts like oregano oil can help combat antibiotic resistance due to antimicrobial properties and better patient tolerance.
There are also fewer side effects associated with oregano oil. Some believe adults and older children can consume oregano oil orally for up to two weeks; however, the effects of the oil on children and pregnant/nursing women are not well-studied.
Consult with a doctor before using the oil and always follow label instructions exactly.
To take it, simply dilute one to two drops of oregano oil with coconut oil or filtered water, and use it once per day.
Lemons are high in antioxidants like vitamin C, which may help protect the body from infections caused by bacteria such as Bordetella pertussis. Research suggests that vitamin C also reduces mucus thickness, while the antiviral and antibacterial properties of lemons could help boost the immune system.
Add a tablespoon of lemon juice to a glass of warm filtered water, and consume several times daily for a few days’ period.
7. Licorice Root
Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is an antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory herb that may decrease coughing, enhance immunity, and soothe the respiratory tract.
Licorice root is recommended for short-term use, and you should use it under the guidance of a holistic practitioner with knowledge of medicinal herbs.
Caution should be used when supplementing licorice root in those with high blood pressure.
Regular intake of chamomile (Matricaria recutita) tea could possibly provide relief of whooping cough symptoms, such as a severe cough attack or difficulty breathing.
This is because chamomile is thought to have immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory properties that promote recovery and relief of symptoms.
For chamomile tea, steep one to two teaspoons of dried chamomile in a cup of boiled water for five minutes. Drink the tea three times daily for a few days during cough attacks.
Ayurvedic practitioners often recommend saffron (Crocus sativus) for treatment of dry coughs and whooping cough due to the antibacterial and expectorant properties of this spice. These assets may help reduce phlegm and improve difficulty breathing and shortness of breath.
Steep a half-teaspoon of saffron in a half cup of boiled water for about five minutes, and drink the tea a few times daily for a week minimum.
Research published in the journal FEMS Immunology and Medical Microbiology in 2012 shows that probiotics can help decrease inflammation and defend against bacterial infections, which includes whooping cough. Probiotics support gut and immune health.
Probiotics also help replenish the good bacteria in the digestive tract, which is especially important when someone is taking antibiotics for respiratory problems.
11. Bone Broth
Consumption of smoothies and soups that feature bone broth could potentially help decrease inflammation in the respiratory system to help boost immunity and fight whooping cough.
Bone broth from local grass-fed animals has the most nutritional value to help support your digestive system and restore your respiratory health.
12. N-acetylcysteine (NAC)
N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is an expectorant that can be used for chronic coughs since it reduces phlegm. NAC comes from the amino acid L-cysteine. It is a top supplement for several respiratory conditions, including bronchitis, lung cancer, hay fever, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and whooping cough.
It might also detoxify the body and boost the immune system. Research published in the journal Pediatrics in 2013 would report a case study of a patient with severe respiratory failure due to whooping cough improved from NAC.
13. Essential Oils
There are a number of essential oils used for whooping cough. Cedarwood essential oil may help remove phlegm and reduce congestion from whooping cough.
Peppermint oil is another essential oil believed to help decrease the severity of coughing attacks. Other essential oils that may be helpful for whooping cough include lavender, chamomile, camphor, tea tree, rosemary, sage, helichrysum, and eucalyptus.
That being said, because of the potential to irritate the skin, camphor, peppermint, and eucalyptus should be avoided in children under 10 years old.
Combine a couple drops of essential oil with carrier oil like coconut oil or jojoba oil, and rub it onto your chest and throat before bed to help with breathing and loosen phlegm.
Clinical experience indicates that homeopathic remedies are another effective option for whooping cough.
Homeopathic treatment is based on choosing a remedy that best matches the symptom profile of the individual. As a result, the right homeopathic remedy could significantly relieve and shorten the duration of your cough.
Here is a brief review of some of the top homeopathic remedies used for whooping cough based on symptoms:
- Antimonium tartaricum: With this remedy, there is a whooping cough with breathlessness and coughing spasms, followed by sleep or nausea and vomiting. The person’s mucus will cause congestion, as well as a rattling sound in the chest.
- Belladonna: Belladonna is often the best remedy for the early stages of whooping cough or when a fever is present, especially when it begins around 3:00 p.m. The person’s head feels as though it will burst from coughing.
- Coccus cacti: This remedy is prescribed for a choking cough that results in vomiting long strings of clear and thick mucus that hang from the nose and mouth. Drinking cold water may bring temporary relief from coughing and throat pain. Coughing worsens in the early morning or around 11:00 p.m.
- Cuprum metallicum: Cuprum metallicum is used when muscle spasms, cramps, and possibly convulsions are linked with whooping cough. Breathing is labored and rapid, and it may seem to stop during coughing attacks. Violent coughing may also lead to suffocation with the face turning pale and the lips blue.
- Drosera rotundifolia: This remedy is used for whooping cough that is so violent that the person vomits, and it becomes hard to catch a breath between coughing attacks. The cough may worsen after midnight or immediately when lying down at night.
- Ipecacuanha: The person that requires ipecacuanha often experiences frequent nausea that may not be resolved by vomiting after the cough. Nausea will lead the person to lack thirst and refuse drinking fluids.
- Kalium carbonicum: The remedy is used for whooping cough that worsens after midnight. There will also be a hacking cough that begins around 3:00 a.m. Other symptoms include exhaustion, irritability, anxiety, and dislike of being alone.
Related: 10 Homeopathic Remedies to Fight Coughs and Colds
15. Rest and Fluids
Regular rest throughout the day is very important when you are fighting whooping cough. Take naps and avoid physical activity until symptoms are gone.
Hydration is also very important when you have whooping cough. Drink plenty of coconut water, filtered water, and herbal tea.
Since coughing bouts can sometimes cause vomiting, it is best to stick with smaller meals throughout the day. Also, eat liquid meals that are easier to digest, like soups, smoothies, and freshly squeezed vegetable and fruit juices.
Precautions When Treating Whooping Cough
When you treat whooping cough, there are certain precautions to consider. Although the antibiotic treatment for whooping cough can decrease the severity or length of time it takes to recover from the disease, antibiotics are likely not able to help if the cough has lasted more than two to three weeks.
What should you consider when treating whooping cough with natural remedies?
Be aware that essential oils should not be used on infants or children under age three. If you are considering essential oils for treating your child with whooping cough, it is wise to do so under the guidance of your natural healthcare practitioner with working knowledge of essential oils.
It is best to perform a patch test on your skin and child’s skin before topically applying essential oils. The essential oil also must be diluted with carrier oil like jojoba oil, almond oil, avocado oil, or coconut oil, before using on your skin.
Essential oils should be avoided when there is a skin reaction like a rash.
Whooping Cough Diagnosis
In the early stages of whooping cough, it is common for the illness to be misdiagnosed since the symptoms are similar to other respiratory diseases such as the common cold, flu, and bronchitis.
Doctors will diagnose whooping cough after asking questions to determine symptoms and listening to the cough, since the whooping sound is very distinct.
When whooping cough is suspected in infants, they may require a trip to the hospital for a diagnosis.
The following are diagnostic tests that are often used to confirm a case of whooping cough:
- Blood tests: The doctor may want to know about the white blood cell (WBC) count. If the WBC count is high, there is likely some type of infection present. An increase in WBCs may also predict death in children admitted to the hospital.
- Chest X-ray: To analyze whether whooping cough is accompanied by fluid or inflammation in the lungs, your doctor may order a chest X-ray.
- Nose or throat culture test: A nurse or doctor will take a swab of mucus from the nose or back of the throat. The swab is then sent to the lab where it is checked for the bacterium Bordetella pertussis.
Is Whooping Cough Contagious? What Are the Complications?
Whooping cough definitely is contagious, and it passes from person to person through close contact with bacteria-filled droplets sprayed into the air.
People with whooping cough often spread the illness to another person by sneezing, coughing, or sharing breathing space.
People with whooping cough symptoms are considered contagious after five days of antibiotic treatment or 21 days after the beginning of a cough when medication is not given.
Although pertussis vaccines are considered an effective prevention method, vaccines are not 100% effective. As a result, when whooping cough is in circulation, a fully vaccinated person can still catch this contagious illness.
Older children and adults with whooping cough often recover without any complication or concern. Most of the time, complications arise when the strain from coughing is so intense.
As a result, complications may include:
- Middle-ear infections
- Tongue and mouth ulcers
- Abdominal hernias
- Swollen face
- Lack of sleep
- Lack of urinary control
- Cracked or bruised ribs
- Broken blood vessels in the whites of the eyes
Complications of whooping cough can be very serious in infants and young children and can include:
- Severe dehydration
- Slowed or stopped breathing
- Seizures and brain damage due to oxygen deprivation
- Kidney failure
- Weight loss due to feeding difficulties and excessive vomiting
Diabetics, pregnant mothers, and people with impaired immunity are also at risk of whooping cough complications.
Since these complications can be life-threatening, contact your doctor immediately if you believe your toddler or infant has whooping cough.
Final Thoughts on Whooping Cough
Whooping cough is a very contagious respiratory illness caused by the bacterium Bortdetella pertussis. The condition is largely characterized by a whooping, high-pitched sound when someone struggles to take a breath after coughing. There may also be dehydration due to breathing difficulty and vomiting.
The standard whooping cough treatment is a full dosage of the antibiotic erythromycin for two weeks. This article also covered the various natural ways for how to get rid of whooping cough.
The top natural home remedies for whooping cough include garlic, ginger, turmeric, raw honey, probiotics, licorice root, oregano oil, homeopathic remedies, and essential oils like peppermint oil.
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