Symptoms of whooping cough

75% of cases nowadays are in teens and adults. Tell me your whooping cough story. I would like to hear from you.  (Opens your emailer)

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Symptoms of whooping cough include the cough. Here are 4 different recordings of it. 

Go back to Home page for Overview of whooping cough information

Sudden choking cough with gagging and vomiting is the principal symptom of whooping cough

Also described as a ‘gasping cough’ 


Sound of a child with whooping cough with slight ‘whooping’.
Sound of a child with whooping cough and lots of ‘whooping’.
Sound of a child with typical whooping cough but there is no ‘whooping’ noise.
Sound of an adult male with whooping cough having a severe paroxysm of coughing.

Key symptoms of whooping cough

  • Whooping cough causes bouts of coughing that usually go on for at least 3 weeks.
  • In each attack you feel as if you are choking and suffocating.
  • Whooping cough frightens onlookers as much as the sufferer.
  • These choking attacks occur on average a dozen times a day.
  • Between the attacks there is usually no coughing at all.
  • Whooping cough is usually worse in the night.
  • Some people feel a moderate to severe general debility in the early stages of whooping cough.
  • Help your doctor to diagnose whooping cough by recording an attack on a smartphone.

Detail about whooping cough symptoms

 It takes 2 weeks to come on

Separate page on early symptoms in more detail

What are the symptoms of whooping cough? Whooping cough (pertussis) in a recognizable form comes on over a period of 2 weeks and it usually starts as a sore throat with a mild feeling of tiredness and being unwell. There may also be some catarrhal symptoms too, like a cold. There may also be a dry cough.

Choking cough develops

Within 2 or 3 days it turns into a dry, “ordinary” cough. This persists, but may come and go over the next 7 to 10 days. Then the cough may become a little productive of small amounts of sticky clear phlegm. Occasional intense bouts of choking coughing start to occur.

Mild fever. Vomiting after an attack

Fever is usually limited to the first week and is only mild. After the above symptoms it becomes a more choking cough that lasts from 1 to 2 minutes, often with vomiting, severe facial congestion and a feeling or appearance of suffocation. 

Feeing well between attacks usually 

 Between these attacks the sufferer usually appears feels perfectly well. These choking attacks happen as little as twice a day or as many as 50. Between attacks the sufferer may not cough at all. ‘Whooping’ is a noise that comes from the voice box after a paroxysm of coughing when the sufferer is suddenly able to take a breath in again.

Sometimes sticky phlegm

There may be very thick, sticky, clear phlegm. It is sometimes stringy. It is also common to produce lots of saliva after a coughing fit.

Only some people ‘whoop’

Only about 50% of sufferers ‘whoop’ but this is where the name comes from. It is pronounced ‘hooping cough’ not ‘wooping cough’. 

Sometimes being unable to breathe for several seconds after a coughing attack. The sufferer may go blue

Sometimes the patient stops breathing after a severe bout of coughing, long enough to go blue. Occasionally the patient faints as well. Recovery is usually rapid however, and back to normal within a couple of minutes.

Lasts roughly 3 to 8 weeks once the choking cough has developed

Whooping cough lasts at least 3 weeks and can frequently go on for 3 months or even longer. In China it is called the ‘100 day cough’. it is now frequently referred to in the West as the ‘100 day cough’.

Some people who get infected with the whooping cough bacterium do not develop the choking cough to a noticeable degree and go unrecognised. The number affected this (‘subclinical’ is the technical term) way is not accurately known but could be 5 times as many. Some of these cases can probably pass it on. There are others (asymptomatic) who get it without noticeable symptoms. They can get immunity from it however. It is uncertain to what extent they might pass it on.

Go to treatment page

Laboratory diagnostic tests to confirm whooping cough

There are several posts about getting diagnosed you may find helpful

Late symptoms

It slowly gets better over several weeks with fewer attacks

It resolves by a slow reduction in the number of choking attacks. From the time the attacks start to reduce in number, to the time they finish, it may be roughly 2 weeks to 2 months or more. The average case lasts about 7 weeks. But for people with it visiting this site, it is likely to last longer, because only more severe cases are likely to get here.

No coughing at all between attacks is the hallmark of whooping cough

The crucial point for clinical diagnosis is attacks of severe choking cough separated by long intervals of NO COUGHING AT ALL. There is immense variation in severity and duration of the illness. Most cases go undiagnosed because the doctor never hears the patient cough and cannot believe it is severe as he or she is being told. And listening with a stethoscope indicates normal lungs in whooping cough.

If whooping cough seems to come back again just when you seem to be getting over it, it usually means you have just caught a viral cough/cold. It brings the whooping cough symptoms back temporarily. You are not infectious for whooping cough in these circumstances.

Therefore I recommend you record or video a severe coughing attack on a smartphone and show your doctor along with my printout for doctors.

 Printout for doctors also in French

Tips for health professionals making a clinical diagnosis 

There is an animated video from Australia on YouTube illustrating the mechanisms of damage by B. pertussis to the respiratory tract. Here is the link

Video of a 6 year old with whooping cough

Video of a teenager with whooping cough

Video of a 2 year old child with whooping cough


This page has been reviewed and updated on 20 March 2023