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Pertussis, or whooping cough, is an infection of the nose, throat, and lungs. Your air passages get plugged with thick mucus, which causes coughing spells. Pertussis is usually less serious in adults and most serious in babies and young children. Pertussis is caused by bacteria. It is easily spread in the air when someone with pertussis coughs or sneezes.


Call 911 for the following:

  • You have trouble breathing.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have a fever.
  • Your cough is getting worse.
  • You are vomiting and cannot keep anything down.
  • You are not sleeping or resting because of the cough.
  • You have a headache, dizziness, or confusion.
  • You have dry mouth or increased thirst.
  • You are urinating little or not at all.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.


You may need any of the following:

  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines you are using to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly. Do not use more than 4 grams (4,000 milligrams) total of acetaminophen in one day.
  • Antibiotics help treat or prevent a bacterial infection.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Contact your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him or her if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Manage your symptoms:

  • Drink liquids as directed. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you. You may need to drink small amounts of liquid every hour when awake. This will help prevent dehydration. Good liquids to drink are water, fruit juices, or sports drinks. Limit caffeine.
  • Eat a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. If you are not hungry, eat smaller amounts more often. Healthy foods may give you energy and help you feel better.
  • Rest as much as possible until you begin to feel better.
  • Use a cool mist humidifier to increase air moisture in your home. This may make it easier for you to breathe and help decrease your cough.
  • Do not smoke or be around anyone who smokes. Your breathing and coughing may get worse if you are near smoke. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help quitting. .

Prevent the spread of pertussis:

Stay away from others to help prevent the spread of pertussis. Do not return to work until your healthcare provider says it is okay. Get vaccines as directed. Vaccines help protect you and others around you from infection.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

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

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Learn more about Pertussis (Discharge Care)

Associated drugs

Micromedex® Care Notes

Mayo Clinic Reference