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Pertussis In Children


Pertussis is an infection of the nose, throat, and lungs. It is also called whooping cough. Your child's air passages get plugged with thick mucus, which causes coughing spells. Anyone can have pertussis, but it is most serious in babies and young children. It may be treated with antibiotic medicine during the early part of the illness. Pertussis can be prevented with DTaP and Tdap shots.



  • Antibiotics help treat or prevent a bacterial infection.

  • NSAIDs help decrease swelling and pain or fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If your child takes blood thinner medicine, always ask if NSAIDs are safe for him. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Do not give these medicines to children under 6 months of age without direction from your child's doctor.

  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much your child should take and how often he should take it. Follow directions. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.

  • Do not give aspirin to children under 18 years of age: Your child could develop Reye syndrome if he takes aspirin. Reye syndrome can cause life-threatening brain and liver damage. Check your child's medicine labels for aspirin, salicylates, or oil of wintergreen.

  • Give your child's medicine as directed. Call your child's healthcare provider if you think the medicine is not working as expected. Tell him if your child is allergic to any medicine. Keep a current list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs your child takes. Include the amounts, and when, how, and why they are taken. Bring the list or the medicines in their containers to follow-up visits. Carry your child's medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Follow up with your child's healthcare provider in 1 to 2 days:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

Care for your child:

Your child's cough could last 10 weeks or longer. It may be worse at night. Coughing helps keep mucus from clogging his lungs.

  • Keep your child's airways clear. Use a bulb syringe to gently clean your baby's nose. Wash the bulb syringe after each use. Clean your baby's nose before breast or bottle feeding so he can breathe easier while feeding. You may need to feed your baby smaller amounts more often if he gets tired during feedings. Clean your baby's nose before you put him down to sleep.

  • Help your child during a coughing spell. If your child has a coughing spell, put him on his side in the crib or bed. This is a safe position because it will keep your child from choking if he vomits. You may also hold your child in a sitting position during a coughing spell. Help your coughing child sit up and lean forward if he is older. This makes it easier to cough and bring up mucus from the lungs.

  • Use a humidifier. Run a cool mist humidifier to increase air moisture in your child's room. Follow the humidifier instructions to run and clean it properly. Keep the humidifier out of your child's reach. The humidifier will help ease your child's cough and make it easier for him to breathe.

  • Give your child plenty of liquids. Ask your child's healthcare provider how much liquid your child should drink each day. Try to give him small amounts of liquid every hour when he is awake, even if he has throat pain.

  • Feed him small, healthy meals often. Offer your child a variety of healthy foods. Examples include fruits, vegetables, breads, dairy products, meat, poultry, and fish. Healthy foods may help your child feel better and have more energy. It may also help him get better faster. If your child is not hungry or tires easily, try feeding him smaller amounts more often.

  • Let your child rest. Your child should rest as much as possible. Try to keep him calm. His breathing and coughing may become worse if he is crying.

  • Keep your child away from smoke. Do not let anyone smoke around your child. Keep your child away from wood-burning stoves or fireplaces. His breathing and coughing may get worse if he is near smoke.

Contact your child's healthcare provider if:

  • Your child has a fever.

  • Your child is not drinking liquids.

  • Your child's cough is getting worse.

  • Your child is tugging his ears or has ear pain.

  • Your child is not sleeping or resting because of the cough.

  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Return to the emergency department if:

  • Your child has been vomiting and cannot keep anything down.

  • Your child has the following signs of dehydration:

    • Crying without tears

    • Dry mouth, tongue, or cracked lips

    • Fussiness, sleepiness, or dizziness

    • Sunken soft spot on the top of his head (if your baby is younger than 1 year)

    • Urinating less than usual

    • Wrinkled skin

  • Your child has more severe coughing spells, is short of breath, breathing faster than normal, or working hard to breathe.

  • Your child's skin between his ribs or above his breast bone pulls in with each breath.

  • Your child's lips or fingernails are blue or white.

  • Your child's nostrils are flaring with each breath.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Pertussis In Children (Aftercare Instructions)