So, what makes whooping cough different from regular coughs, and what do you need to know?

How is whooping cough different from ‘normal’ coughs?

While many coughs are caused by the common cold virus, whooping cough is a bacterial infection (known medically as pertussis).

“Whooping cough often appears as a normal cough or cold at first, however you may notice symptoms intensifying after a week or two,” says Dr Kathryn Basford from online doctor, Zava. “While a typical cough clears up in a few weeks and feels mild, whooping cough can linger for much longer, even up to a few months.

“The key difference to look out for between a mild cough and whooping cough is the intensity. Whooping cough comes in strong coughing fits, especially at night, and most notably includes a high-pitched ‘whoop’ as you struggle to breathe. It can even lead to vomiting, a bright red face, and difficulty breathing.

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How do you catch whooping cough?

“Whooping cough is a highly contagious respiratory illness, meaning it spreads through the air via tiny droplets expelled when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can be inhaled by others nearby,” says Basford.

“Additionally, the bacteria can linger on surfaces touched by an infected individual, creating indirect transmission if someone else touches the surface and then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth. This is why frequent hand washing and maintaining good respiratory hygiene, like covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze, are crucial in preventing the spread.”

How do you treat whooping cough?

“Treating whooping cough depends on a few factors, like your age and how long you’ve had it. Infants under six months are at greater risk of complications and often require hospitalisation and specific care,” says Basford.

“If you’re diagnosed early (within three weeks), antibiotics can help. Medication won’t necessarily make you feel better faster, but it plays a crucial role in stopping the spread.

“The focus is on managing symptoms: getting plenty of rest, staying hydrated, and using a cool mist humidifier to ease the cough. Painkillers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol can also help with discomfort.”