Complications of whooping cough 

Babies and young children are usually most severely affected by whooping cough. They are most likely to develop severe complications, such as:

  • pneumonia, an infection that causes inflammation of the lungs
  • dehydration
  • temporary pauses in breathing as a result of severe difficulty with breathing
  • weight loss due to excessive vomiting
  • seizures (fits)
  • low blood pressure, requiring medication
  • kidney failure, requiring temporary dialysis
  • brain damage, if breathing difficulties prevent enough oxygen from getting to the brain

Severe complications such as pneumonia and brain damage can be fatal, although this is extremely rare. There were three deaths in infants with whooping cough in 2013.

Older children and adults

Older children and adults are occasionally affected by complications of whooping cough. But the complications are usually much less serious than those experienced by babies and young children.

Less serious complications can include:

  • nosebleeds and burst blood vessels in the whites of the eyes from intense bouts of coughing
  • bruised ribs as a result of intense coughing
  • hernia (where an internal part of the body pushes through a weakness in the muscle or surrounding tissue wall) due to intense coughing
  • a swollen face
  • ulcers on the tongue and mouth
  • ear infections such as otitis media (a build-up of fluid in the middle ear)

Page last reviewed: 01/07/2014

Next review due: 01/07/2016