Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a bacterial infection with symptoms that are similar to those of a common cold. In children, bouts of coughing often end with a "whoop" sound. In young children, coughing spells can lead to dangerous symptoms of vomiting, choking and even unconsciousness. Other common signs in children may include:
• Symptoms of the common cold, which tend to start about a week after the child is exposed to the bacteria
• Severe coughing fits, which begin about 10 to 12 days after initial symptoms
• Low fever of 102 degrees Fahrenheit or below
• A runny nose
Symptoms of whooping cough typically last six to 10 weeks (but may last longer). Older children and adults don't always go through the same stages.
Symptoms like those of a cold begin and last for several days to two weeks. Symptoms usually include sneezing, a runny nose, mild coughing, watery eyes, and sometimes a mild fever. An infected person is most contagious during this stage.
The most serious symptoms occur during this phase and last about two to four weeks or longer. As cold symptoms fade, the cough gets worse. A dry, hacking cough turns into bursts of uncontrollable, often violent coughing that may make it temporarily impossible to breathe. This may happen up to 30 times a day. The person may quickly inhale when trying to take a breath through airways narrowed by inflammation, which sometimes creates a whooping noise.
In babies, coughing spells:
• May be triggered by very slight stimulation, such as taking in food or milk, sucking, exposure to a sudden sound or light, or stretching.
• May cause symptoms of flushed cheeks, pale or bluish complexion from lack of oxygen, and bulging or watery eyes. A baby may also stick out his or her tongue, push the chest forward, or flail arms and legs in distress.
• May be frightening to watch, although most babies recover and regain control of their breathing on their own. Babies generally feel well between coughing spells but may become exhausted from the physical effort of coughing. It's also possible that your baby's breathing could stop for a short time during the coughing spells. This is called apnea.