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Whooping cough treatments

If whooping cough is diagnosed during the first few weeks of the infection, your doctor may prescribe a course of antibiotics to prevent the infection spreading further.

Antibiotics will stop you being infectious after five days of taking them. However, without antibiotics, you may still be infectious until three weeks after your intense bouts of coughing start.

If whooping cough is not diagnosed until the later stages of the infection, your doctor may not prescribe antibiotics. This is because the bacterium that causes whooping cough has already gone by this time, so you are no longer infectious. Antibiotics will make no difference to your symptoms at this stage.

Treating babies and young children

Babies are affected most severely by whooping cough, and are most at risk of developing complications. For this reason, babies under 12 months who contract whooping cough will often need hospital admission.

If your child is admitted to hospital to be treated for whooping cough, it is likely they will be treated in isolation. This means they will be kept away from other patients to prevent the infection spreading.

Your child may need to be given antibiotics intravenously (straight into a vein through a drip).

If your child is severely affected, they may also need corticosteroid medication as well as antibiotics. Corticosteroid medication contains steroids. These are powerful hormones that will reduce inflammation (swelling) in your child’s airways, making it easier for them to breathe. Like antibiotics, corticosteroids may be given intravenously.

If your child needs additional help with breathing, they may be given extra oxygen through a facemask. A handheld device called a bulb syringe may also be used to gently suction away any mucus that is blocking their airways.

Last reviewed: May 2017

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