What are the Different Types of Pertussis Treatments?

Debra Durkee

Pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough, is highly contagious and somewhat difficult to diagnose, and treatment generally involves the administration of a regimen of antibiotics to help the body fight the infection. Staying home from work or school can help keep the disease from spreading, and staying in a humid room may help alleviate some of the pain from coughing. A course of antibiotics is usually prescribed for at least five days, although some cases may require longer treatment and a longer period of time before the infected individual is sent back to work or school. For those who know they have been around an individual diagnosed with the disease, the same course of antibiotics may be administered as a precaution to help kill the pertussis bacteria before symptoms can develop into a full-blown case.

Coughing can be a symptom of a deeper medical problem.
Coughing can be a symptom of a deeper medical problem.

Pertussis treatments also focus on helping to alleviate some of the symptoms while the individual is recovering. Severe coughing can lead to painful vomiting, body aches, and a decrease in the amount of oxygen in the blood. Some cases may require the individual to have access to an oxygen machine, especially young children who contract the disease. When the condition is so severe that hospitalization is required, the individual may be moved to an oxygen tent. In less severe cases, a humidifier is suggested to add moisture to the air, keep the respiratory system moist, and make breathing easier.

An intravenous drip may be necessary to prevent dehydration in patients unable to eat or drink due to pertussis.
An intravenous drip may be necessary to prevent dehydration in patients unable to eat or drink due to pertussis.

The severe cough can make the throat sore and raw, which can in turn make it difficult for the individual to eat or drink. An intravenous drip may be administered with other pertussis treatments in order to make sure the patient does not become dehydrated. This can be most important in children not yet old enough to realize the importance of maintaining fluids in the body. Most pertussis treatments involve careful monitoring of an individual to make sure no complications arise.

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Complications such as ear infections and difficulty breathing are not uncommon in individuals diagnosed with pertussis. The condition may easily turn into pneumonia if pertussis treatments are not started in time, in which case treatment for that condition is given in addition to antibiotics for pertussis. The younger the patient, the more severe complications can be; medical professionals will generally keep an eye out for convulsions that can develop into a permanent disorder as well as hemorrhages or bloody noses that can be caused by the trauma of severe coughing.

Discussion Comments


@JessicaLynn - I actually know someone who contracted pertussis as an adult. They had to miss a few days of work, but they were fine in the end.

My friend told me what helped her most was using a humidifier. It really helped cut down on the coughing, which was extremely painful!


Pertussis sounds horrible, but luckily it's not that common anymore. Since children are required to be vaccinated against it, it's not such a huge problem.

Still, it sounds like it's essential to get treatment right away for any children who do happen to contract pertussis. Pneumonia can be pretty serious-you don't want the pertussis to develop into that!


@jholcomb - I agree that it's worth looking into your records, but you might be surprised. My wife was already pregnant when we heard about the dangers of pertussis and that adults might not have protection.

Fortunately, we'd both been seeing the same doctor for the past couple of years. When I called to ask about having a pertussis booster during my wife's pregnancy (she obviously would have had to wait until after she delivered), his office told me that they always use the Tdap vaccine when someone asks for a tetanus booster. So thankfully, we both already had protection.

A pertussis vaccine is not available by itself. I was certainly relieved not to need an extra tetanus shot - ouch!


Pertussis in adults and older children is not that dangerous. They get better. But it can be absolutely deadly for babies - especially babies who are too young to have ben vaccinated yet!

If you are planning a pregnancy, you should think about having a pertussis booster, especially if you work with children. And if you have older children in your home, make sure their immunizations are up-to-date. It's up to all of us to protect the most vulnerable among us!

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