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 tissues in your 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 five deaths from whooping cough from the second half of 2011 to May 2012 in England and Wales.

Older children and adults

Older children and adults are occasionally affected by complications of whooping cough. However, 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: 26/06/2012

Next review due: 26/06/2014


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The 1 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

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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