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What are the symptoms of whooping cough?

Page last updated 12 May 2020

Whooping cough usually begins like a cold. Early symptoms can last for 1 or 2 weeks and may include:

  • a blocked or runny nose
  • sneezing
  • mild fever
  • a cough

The cough can gradually get worse and severe bouts of uncontrollable coughing can develop. Coughing bouts can be followed by vomiting, choking, or taking a big gasping breath, which causes a ‘whooping’ sound. The cough can last for many weeks and can be worse at night.

Some newborns may not cough at all but they can stop breathing and turn blue. Some babies have difficulties feeding and can choke or gag.

The severity of symptoms may vary in adults. Scientific studies suggest that up to 1 in 4 adults with a cough that lasts for more than 2 or 3 weeks may have whooping cough.

    Complications of whooping cough are usually less serious in adults, especially if you have been vaccinated. In one study, the most common complications reported were:

    • weight loss in 1 out of 3 adults
    • loss of bladder control in 1 out of 3 adults 
    • rib fracture from severe coughing in 1 out of 25 adults
    • passing out in 3 out of 50 adults   

    Sources & Citations

    3. The Australian Immunisation Handbook. Pertussis (whooping cough). Available at: (accessed 25 March 2020).

    4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pertussis frequently asked questions. Available at: (accessed 25 March).

    8. Pimentel AM, et al. Braz J Infect Dis 2015;19(1):43–46.

    9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pertussis Complications. Available at: (accessed 25 March).

    SPANZ.SAPAS.18.04.0136(1)a - Date of preparation May 2020