Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Whooping cough symptoms

Whooping cough tends to develop in stages, with mild symptoms occurring first, followed by a period of more severe symptoms, before improvement begins.

Early symptoms

The early symptoms of whooping cough are often similar to those of a common cold and may include:

These early symptoms of whooping cough can last for one to two weeks, before becoming more severe.

Check your symptoms with healthdirect’s Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

Paroxysmal symptoms

The second stage of whooping cough is often called the paroxysmal stage and is characterised by intense bouts of coughing. The bouts are sometimes referred to as ‘paroxysms’ of coughing.

The paroxysmal symptoms of whooping cough may include:

  • intense bouts of coughing, which bring up thick phlegm
  • a ‘whoop’ sound with each sharp intake of breath after coughing
  • vomiting after coughing, especially in infants and young children
  • tiredness and redness or blueness in the face from the effort of coughing.

Each bout of coughing usually lasts between one and two minutes, but several bouts may occur in quick succession and last several minutes. The number of coughing bouts experienced each day varies.

The paroxysmal symptoms of whooping cough usually last at least two weeks, but can last up to 10 weeks, even after treatment. This is because the cough continues even after the Bordetella pertussis bacterium has been cleared from your body.

Whooping cough complications

Infants

Infants younger than six months may not make the ‘whoop’ sound after coughing, but they may start gagging or gasping, and may temporarily stop breathing. While your baby is unwell with whooping cough, it is a good idea to keep them close by and watch them carefully in case they stops breathing. If your baby has any trouble breathing, call triple zero (000).

Babies under a year old can be especially susceptible to complications of whooping cough such as pneumonia, convulsions and brain damage.Though very rare, it’s possible for whooping cough to cause sudden unexpected death in infants.

If your baby has persistent vomiting, seizures, or signs of dehydration see your doctor or go to your local emergency department. See your doctor as soon as possible if you think you or your child may have whooping cough.

Young children

Young children can develop apnoea as a complication of whooping cough in which they can stop breathing for long periods of time. Young children may also seem to choke or become blue in the face (cyanosis) when they have a bout of coughing. If your child is experiencing any of these complications – not breathing and/or turning blue – seek medical attention immediately. Go to a hospital or call triple zero (000) for an ambulance.

Adults and older children

In adults and older children, the paroxysmal symptoms of whooping cough are far less severe than in young children, and may appear more like symptoms of a milder respiratory infection, such as bronchitis.

Last reviewed: May 2017

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Found 87 results

Whooping cough symptoms, vaccine and treatment | myVMC

Whooping cough produces a barky type cough, with a whooping sound. Dr Joe explains it is preventable with vaccination and can be treated with antibiotics.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Cough | myVMC

Medical information about causes of coughing, whooping cough symptoms, kennel cough dry cough medicine, chronic cough, whooping cough symptom of croup cough with cough remedies.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Whooping cough: babies, children & teens | Raising Children Network

Whooping cough is an infectious bacterial illness. Immunisation protects your child, but see your GP if you think your child has whooping cough symptoms.

Read more on Raising Children Network website

Whooping cough (pertussis) - including symptoms, treatment and prevention :: SA Health

Whooping cough or pertussis is a highly contagious disease caused by bacteria and is spread by coughing and sneezing or contact with secretions

Read more on SA Health website

Whooping cough overview - myDr.com.au

Whooping cough is a highly infectious disease that causes sudden attacks of coughing that often end in a high-pitched whooping sound.

Read more on myDr website

Whooping Cough

Whooping cough (which is sometimes also called pertussis) is a serious infection that usually causes a long coughing illness. In babies, the infection can be life threatening.

Read more on NSW Health website

Whooping cough

The major symptom of whooping cough is a severe cough, which is often followed by a 'whooping' sound.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Immunise - Whooping Cough (pertussis)

Whooping Cough (pertussis) Page last updated: 23 February 2016 Whooping Cough (pertussis)is an extremely contagious respiratory infection caused by the bacteriumBordetella pertussis

Read more on Department of Health website

Whooping cough (pertussis)

Whooping cough is a highly infectious disease that can be a life threatening infection in babies.

Read more on WA Health website

Whooping Cough (Pertussis) | myVMC

Whooping cough, otherwise known as pertussis, is a highly contagious bacterial disease which affects the respiratory system and produces spasms of coughing that usually end in a high-pitched sounding deep inspiration of air, which is what is referred to as the whoop

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice and information you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo
Feedback