Diseases Home > Whooping Cough Complications

For children with whooping cough, complications may include difficulty breathing, pneumonia, and seizures. Infants under the age of 12 months who develop whooping cough are more likely to have complications and be hospitalized than people in other age groups. When adolescents and adults get whooping cough, complications that may develop include such things as difficulty sleeping, urinary incontinence, and rib fractures.

Whooping Cough Complications: An Introduction

Whooping cough complications are a major concern in people with the illness, especially in children younger than 12 months of age with whooping cough symptoms.

Possible Whooping Cough Complications

Possible complications of whooping cough (pertussis) can include:
  • Middle ear infection (otitis media)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Less oxygen in the blood (hypoxia)
  • Pneumonia
  • Seizures
  • Encephalopathy
  • Malnutrition
  • Death.

Whooping Cough Complications in Infants

Infants under the age of 12 months tend to develop the most serious cases of whooping cough, and they are more likely to have complications and be hospitalized than people in other age groups. In the 1990s, about two-thirds of infants reported with whooping cough were hospitalized. Also, infants are more likely to experience pneumonia or convulsions. Infants with whooping cough have the greatest risk of dying as a result of the illness. In recent years, 15 to 21 infant deaths from pertussis have occurred annually.
Parents can help protect their infants by getting a pertussis booster (Adacel®, Boostrix®) themselves. Parents can also help protect their very young infants by minimizing exposure (close contact) with individuals who have cold symptoms or cough illness. Coughing people of any age -- including parents, siblings, and grandparents -- can have whooping cough. When a person has cold symptoms or cough illness, they need to stay away from young infants as much as possible.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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