Suspecting whooping cough

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How do you know when to suspect whooping cough?

Parents of teenagers might find this interesting.

The kids will make light of it because they don’t feel particularly ill, but nighttime spasms can really disrupt sleep badly with the obvious consequences.

Whooping cough (pertussis) incubates and developes slowly over about 10 to 14 days. It can be that long before coughing starts after symptoms like sore throat or a bit of a cold.

It is just an ordinary tickly cough to start with but over a few more days turns into a cough that comes in severe spasms, with not much else in between.

These severe spasms of coughing (sometimes with vomiting, whooping and inability to breathe in for a short time,) happen up to 20 times a day. They are frightening to the sufferer and anyone who observes it.

Most cases nowadays are in teenagers and adults.

Most people would not be unduly worried if these unpleasant symptoms went on for a small number of days, and many coughing illnesses seem like this and then start to clear up. Whooping cough will go on for at least 3 weeks as a rule and can go on for 3 months in bad cases.

If such a cough is still getting worse after choking attacks have been going on for a week then whooping cough should be strongly suspected. Even earlier if there is whooping or vomiting or apnoea (stopping breathing).

There are videos and audios on the symptoms page.

Dr Doug Jenkinson


Douglas Jenkinson

Registered medical practitioner in the United Kingdom since 1967. Worked in Africa in the 1970s. Spent most of career in General Practice in Keyworth near Nottingham. Was also a part-time lecturer in General Practice at Nottingham Medical School. Became engaged in post graduate education and research into asthma and whooping cough. Acknowledged expert on clinical whooping cough and awarded doctorate after many publications.

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