Whooping Cough in Teenagers

By Brandy Burgess
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Pertussis, or whooping cough, is sometimes referred to as the “100 day cough” and lasts up to 10 weeks. While known as a childhood illness, whooping cough can also affect teenagers. This highly contagious respiratory tract infection can cause violent coughing spells and severe cold-like symptoms. Getting vaccinated early in life can help protect teenagers against whooping cough.

Signs and Symptoms

In many cases, symptoms do not appear for one to three weeks after infection occurs due to the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. Symptoms are mild at first, mimicking the common cold with symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes, nasal congestion, dry cough and a slight fever. One to two weeks later, symptoms worsen, causing uncontrollable coughing, extreme fatigue and coughing attacks which can sometimes end with a “whooping” sound.


Whooping cough poses little threat to teenagers, as their immune systems are mature enough to fight off the illness. It can, however, result in a nasty cough, loss of sleep and days missed from school. In rare cases, severe coughing can cause bruised or cracked ribs, broken blood vessels in the skin or whites of the eyes or abdominal hernias. Whooping cough is also highly contagious and can easily spread from sibling to sibling through tiny droplets of fluid from the teenager’s nose or mouth. Teenagers and adults are more susceptible to the infection as the whooping cough vaccination given as a child gradually wears off.


Teenagers should receive the pertussis vaccination to prevent infection. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the whooping cough vaccination can be given as a Tdap booster between the age of 11 and 18. Similar to the DTap -- diphtheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis -- immunization administered before a child’s sixth birthday, Tdap has lower concentrations of diphtheria and tetanus toxoid and can also be given to adults.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Only a doctor can diagnose a teenager with whooping cough through a review of his medical history, physical exam, samples of throat and nose mucus, blood tests or chest X-ray. Antibiotics are generally the treatment of choice to help shorten the duration of the infection. While treatment may not reduce the symptoms, it can help stop the spread of whooping cough to others. Plenty of rest and a cool-mist vaporizer can make the recovery period a little more comfortable.