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Whooping Cough (Pertussis) in Children: Care Instructions


Whooping cough (also called pertussis) is a disease that causes severe coughing. Your child may also have symptoms that are similar to those of a common cold, such as a cough, a runny nose, and a fever. People of any age can get it, but it can be hard on babies in their first year.

Coughing may last weeks or even months. A coughing spell may last a long time. Your child may be very tired in between coughing spells.

The doctor may give your child antibiotics. Babies are often treated in the hospital.

This disease can spread quickly from person to person. Babies, especially if they aren't vaccinated, may catch whooping cough from adult caregivers who don't know that they have it. You can help prevent or decrease the severity of whooping cough by keeping your family's immunizations up to date.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Be safe with medicines. Have your child take medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse advice line if you think your child is having a problem with their medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.
  • If the doctor prescribed antibiotics for your child, give them as directed. Do not stop using them just because your child feels better. Your child needs to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Be careful with cough and cold medicines. Don't give them to children younger than 6, because they don't work for children that age and can even be harmful. For children 6 and older, always follow all the instructions carefully. Make sure you know how much medicine to give and how long to use it. And use the dosing device if one is included.
  • Keep your home and especially your child's room quiet and calm. This will help your child rest and cut down on coughing spells.
  • Keep smoke and dust away from your home and your child.
  • Try to shield your child from sudden noises or lights or changes in temperature.
  • Give your child frequent, small sips of fluids and healthy foods.
  • Keep your child away from other children while your child is ill.
  • All family members and visitors should wash their hands often to help prevent the spread of infection.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child stops breathing, turns blue, or becomes unconscious. Follow instructions given by emergency services while you wait for help.
  • Your child has severe trouble breathing. Signs may include the chest sinking in, using belly muscles to breathe, or nostrils flaring while your child is struggling to breathe.

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child is vomiting and cannot keep down fluids.
  • Your child has more trouble breathing or is breathing faster.
  • Your child is too tired to eat or drink.
  • Your child's face, hands, and feet look slightly grey or purple.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • Your child is not getting better.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.