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Whooping Cough

Pertussis is a violent cough sometimes called whooping cough. A vaccine for pertussis was developed in 1948. Before then children in the United States often died from it. The disease is rising again because fewer people are getting vaccinated.

Signs and Symptoms

The three phases of the disease are listed below.

Catarrhal phase (lasts one to two weeks):

bulletUpper respiratory infection; begins like the common cold
bulletLow-grade fever (less than 100.4°F)
bulletLoss of appetite

Paroxysmal phase (lasts one to four weeks):

bulletCough increases (2 to 50 times a day) and fever decreases.
bulletSudden forceful breathing in causes the whooping sound.
bulletA sudden intense bout of coughing (paroxysms) causes bulging and tearing eyes tongue sticking out and bluish discoloration.
bulletVomiting or choking may follow coughing bouts.

Convalescent phase (lasts two weeks to several months):

bulletCough slowly goes away.

What Causes It?

A type of bacteria causes pertussis and it is spread through droplets coughed into the air. It is a highly contagious disease.

What to Expect at Your Provider's Office

Your health care provider will will prescribe an antibiotic which helps prevent the disease from spreading. Patients with complications severe coughing bouts or who are under one year of age are hospitalized.

Treatment Options

Treatment Plan

Treatment is largely to control symptoms and prevent the spread of the disease. You will be isolated for seven days while you take antibiotics. It is important not to use a cough suppressant. Suctioning of secretions oxygen and intravenous fluids and electrolytes are used for infants and long illnesses. Mist by tent also may benefit infants.

Drug Therapies


bulletAntibiotics—help cure and stop the spread of pertussis; unless taken early in your illness it will not help the severity; various side effects
bulletCorticosteroids—may reduce severity and length of cough especially for infants
bulletAlbuterol—reduces severity of cough

Over the Counter


Complementary and Alternative Therapies

Pertussis can be treated with nutrition herbs and homeopathy.


Note: Doses given are for children. Adults should double the amounts.

bulletEliminate dairy bananas wheat and meat products.
bulletEncourage small frequent meals of vegetable broths steamed vegetables and fresh fruit (especially pineapple and grapes).
bulletVitamin C (200 to 500 mg three times per day) zinc (10 to 15 mg per day) and beta-carotene (10 000 to 25 000 IU per day).


Herbs may be used as dried extracts (capsules powders teas) glycerites (glycerine extracts) or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Teas should be made with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or flowers and 10 to 20 minutes for roots.

Catarrhal stage: Choose two herbs from each of the first three categories. Combine in equal parts in a tea ( 1/2 cup every three to four hours) a tincture or glycerite (30 drops every three to four hours).

Paroxysmal stage: In addition to the above formula combine 2 parts of catnip with two to four of the other antispasmodic herbs in a tincture or glycerite (20 drops every one to two hours).

Immune-stimulating herbs:

bulletConeflower (Echinacea purpurea)
bulletUsnea lichen (Usnea spp.)
bulletGarlic (Allium sativum)
bulletAstragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)


bulletLicorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
bulletElecampane (Inula helenium)
bulletMullein (Verbascum thapsus)


bulletThyme (Thymus vulgaris)
bulletHyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)
bulletAnise seed (Pimpinella anisum)


bulletIndian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) (not more than 1/4 of combination)
bulletCatnip (Nepeta cateria)
bulletChamomile (Matricaria recutita)
bulletCramp bark (Viburnum opulus)
bulletValerian (Valeriana officinalis)


Some of the most common remedies for pertussis are listed below.

bulletAconite for sudden onset of cough and great thirst for cold drinks
bulletBelladonna for sudden onset high fever with irritability
bulletDrosera for coughing when lying or from tickle in the throat
bulletBryonia alba for cough that is dry and painful
bulletArnica montana for painful cough with nosebleed
bulletAntimonium tartaricum for rattling cough and weakness
bulletIpecacuanha for persistent nausea with cough and gagging

Physical Medicine

bulletChest rubs. Use 3 to 6 drops of essential oil (camphor thyme eucalyptus rosemary) with 1 tbsp. food-grade oil (almond flax or olive).
bulletCastor oil pack. Apply oil directly to chest cover with a clean soft cloth and plastic wrap. Place a heat source over the pack and let sit for 30 to 60 minutes. Use daily.
bulletPlace 3 to 6 drops of essential oil in a humidifier or a warm bath.
bulletAlternating hot and cold applications to the chest or back. Alternate three minutes hot with one minute cold.
bulletWarming sock treatment. Before bed place cold damp socks on warmed feet and cover with dry wool socks overnight.


May enhance immunity and decrease duration and severity of infection.


Foot massage has a relaxing effect and can help induce sleep.

Following Up

Complete recovery is expected unless there are complications.

Special Considerations

Vaccinations are 80 to 90 percent effective. They last about 12 years.

Supporting Research

Bartram T. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. Dorset England: Grace Publishers; 1995:452–453.

Behrman RE Kliegman R eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 15th ed. Philadelphia Pa: WB Saunders; 1996.

Blumenthal M ed. The Complete German Commission E Monographs. Boston Mass: Integrative Medicine Communications; 1998:432.

Bove M. An Encyclopedia of Natural Healing for Children and Infants. New Canaan Conn: Keats Publishing; 1996:205–208.

Rakel RE ed. Conn's Current Therapy. 50th ed. Philadelphia Pa: WB Saunders; 1998.

Rosen P Barkin R eds. Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 4th ed. St. Louis Mo: Mosby-Year Book; 1996.

Scott J. Natural Medicine for Children. London England: Gaia Books Ltd; 1990:133–134.