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Whooping cough in babies and children - symptoms - Whooping cough in babies and children

Whooping cough usually starts with cold-like symptoms.

For example:

  • a runny nose
  • red and watery eyes
  • sore throat
  • raised temperature

Intense coughing starts about a week later.

The coughing:

  • usually lasts a few minutes at a time
  • is more common at night
  • can bring up thick mucus, sometimes followed by being sick

The cough might be harder to notice in young babies, but they may have short periods when they stop breathing. This is why it is important to get medical help urgently if your child is less than 12 months old.

Your child may:

  • gasp for breath between coughs, causing a 'whoop' sound - but not everyone has this
  • get very red in the face from coughing, and have slight bleeding under the skin or in the eyes
  • briefly turn blue if they have trouble breathing
  • have a sore throat, ribs and tummy muscles from coughing

When to get medical help

Urgent advice: Get urgent medical help from your GP if your child:

  • is less than 12 months old
  • has a cough that is getting worse
  • has a cough that has lasted longer than 3 weeks

Emergency action required: Go to your nearest accident and emergency department (ED) if your child:

  • is having a lot of trouble with breathing, for example long periods of breathlessness or choking, or periods where breathing stops
  • if their skin or lips turn a dark or blue colour
  • has a seizure or a fit
  • develops a pain in their chest (this could be a sign of pneumonia)

The cough will get better over time, but it may take a few months before it stops completely.

If your child is having bouts of coughing, it can be a good idea to get a video or sound recording of your child's coughing. This can be really helpful if your child needs to get medical help from your GP or hospital doctor, as your child may not cough in front of them.

You will be busy comforting your child during these fits of coughing, so ask for help from a trusted family member or friend with the recording.

Page last reviewed: 2 February 2023
Next review due: 2 February 2026