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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