Whooping cough - Complications 

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


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The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

MaggieMat said on 01 September 2014

I had whooping cough in April 2009. Kept going to Doc = chest infection continually diagnosed. Got asthma inhaler, steroids, you name it I got it. I was having classic Whooping cough episode in front of various Docs (without Whoop) and not one diagnosed me. I had what I called "flare-ups" over the next 8 months! I was off work more than at work - caused very bad feelings with my boss - I am no longer working there. In desperation, I went on the Internet in the December at 2.30am (up coughing my ribs up again), heard a little girl on youtube coughing EXACTLY like me and without the whoop. Got Doc that week. Asked for pertussis blood test, she looked me in the eye and said, " Mrs ----, adults do NOT get whooping cough". I stated that I was so desperate that I would pay for a private blood test. At that point she grudgingly agreed to take a test but told me it would be negative. It was positive. The Public Health Office called me directly asking whom I had been in contact with, etc. I was furious. I had a new grand=daughter in Dec 09 and had been around her! I went to the surgery to see my notes and noted the Doc had written in her notes that she had suggested the blood tests! I managed to hav e an addendum added to the notes stating the truth. It lest me with a severe allergy to dogs cos of damage to my lungs. I had to re-home my 8yr and 6y old spaniels. This nasty disease devastated me for a long time after infection and has added an extreme allergy into my life. I was VERY unhappy I was not diagnosed earlier and VERY unhappy that a Doc could look at me in the eye and state that "adults do NOT get whooping cough". Tis happened to me, ask for a second opinion and trust your instinct. Doctors can and do get it wrong.

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Talkie61 said on 24 April 2014

I was diagnosed with Whooping Cough, by a blood test in late August 2013. I had the typical Whooping cough,retching and difficulty swallowing. It started with lose of voice and I had to have 3 months off work, and lost my voice again just before I returned to work. I need my voice for my job, and wasn't able to talk properly for another 3 months! I attended ENT clinic and was told I had damaged my vocal cords, as I had been continually coughing for 5 months. Now 9 months along I am still having voice therapy, and have to rest my voice at work, only answering phones for half my working day!! Some days I think it all has passed, and then my voice goes squeeky again. Not what I had expected in my last year or so of my working life! It shows you never know what is around the corner when it comes to your health.

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