What causes a whooping sound when coughing and how to treat it?

Symptom Database

Have you ever experienced a whooping sound when coughing? It can be quite alarming and uncomfortable. In this article, we will explore the causes of this peculiar cough sound and discuss how to treat it effectively.

Understanding the Whooping Sound

The whooping sound is often associated with a respiratory infection known as pertussis, or more commonly, whooping cough. This highly contagious bacterial infection affects the respiratory system, causing severe coughing fits and coughing spasms.

What is Pertussis?

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. It spreads through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The bacteria attach to the lining of the airways, leading to inflammation and excessive mucus production.

The Characteristics of Whooping Cough

Whooping cough typically progresses through three stages:

  • Catarrhal stage: This stage resembles a common cold, with symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing, and a mild cough. The cough gradually becomes more severe.
  • Paroxysmal stage: This is when the characteristic whooping sound appears. Coughing fits become more frequent and intense, often followed by a high-pitched intake of breath that produces the whooping sound.
  • Convalescent stage: The cough gradually subsides but may persist for several weeks or even months.

Treating the Whooping Sound

While pertussis can be a serious illness, especially in infants and young children, there are several steps you can take to treat the whooping sound and alleviate the symptoms:

1. Seek Medical Attention

If you or your child experiences a persistent cough with a whooping sound, it is crucial to consult a healthcare professional. They can diagnose the underlying cause and recommend appropriate treatment options.

2. Antibiotics

If pertussis is confirmed, antibiotics may be prescribed to reduce the severity and duration of the illness. Antibiotics are most effective when administered during the early stages of the infection.

3. Supportive Care

Supportive care plays a vital role in managing the symptoms of whooping cough. Here are some measures you can take:

  • Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration caused by excessive coughing.
  • Rest: Get ample rest to aid in the recovery process and reduce coughing fits.
  • Use a humidifier: Moistening the air can help soothe the airways and alleviate coughing.
  • Avoid irritants: Stay away from smoke, strong odors, and other irritants that can trigger coughing spells.

4. Vaccination

Prevention is always better than cure. Vaccination is the most effective way to protect against pertussis. The pertussis vaccine is typically administered as part of the routine childhood immunization schedule. However, it is also recommended for adolescents and adults, especially those in close contact with infants.

5. Isolation and Prevention

Since pertussis is highly contagious, it is essential to take precautions to prevent its spread:

  • Isolate the infected individual: Keep them away from others, especially infants and young children who are more susceptible to severe complications.
  • Practice good respiratory hygiene: Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your elbow when coughing or sneezing. Dispose of used tissues properly.
  • Hand hygiene: Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing.


The whooping sound when coughing is a characteristic symptom of pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough. It is crucial to seek medical attention if you or your child experiences this symptom. Antibiotics, supportive care, vaccination, and preventive measures can help manage the condition effectively and prevent its spread. Remember, early diagnosis and treatment are key to a speedy recovery.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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