Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

What are the symptoms of pertussis?

Pertussis usually begins with the same symptoms of a cold:

  • runny nose
  • mild fever (102ºF or lower)

After a couple of weeks, those symptoms may continue, but severe symptoms also appear.

Severe, repeated coughs that:

  • make it difficult to breathe
  • make you vomit
  • produce a high-pitched "whooping" sound when you take a breath
  • cause a short loss of consciousness
  • cause lips and nails to turn blue from a lack of oxygen


choking spells (in infants)

How is pertussis diagnosed?

Doctors usually diagnose pertussis based on symptoms. Pertussis can be difficult to diagnose when the symptoms are not obvious.

To confirm that you have pertussis, your doctor may take a mucus sample and test it for pertussis. Because it takes some time to get results from this test, doctors usually start treatment immediately.

How is pertussis treated?

Cough syrups and drops will not work on pertussis. They will not make your symptoms improve or shorten the length of the illness.

Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics, fluids given through a vein (intravenously), and/or an oxygen tent with high humidity.

Antibiotics (like erythromycin and amoxicillin) can help symptoms go away more quickly—if you start taking the antibiotics early in the span of the pertussis. If you are diagnosed too late, the antibiotics will not work on the pertussis symptoms.