What is the typical presentation of pertussis (whooping cough)?

Updated: May 02, 2019
  • Author: Joseph J Bocka, MD; Chief Editor: Russell W Steele, MD  more...
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Answer

In patients with uncomplicated pertussis, physical examination findings contribute little to the diagnosis. In all patients with pertussis, fever is typically absent. Most patients do not have signs of lower respiratory tract disease. Conjunctival hemorrhages and facial petechiae are common and result from intense coughing. Dehydration is also common on presentation. Hypoxia should be considered and assessed.

The classic inspiratory gasp or whoop develops primarily in children aged 6 months to 5 years. It is usually absent in patients younger than 6 months and in most older vaccinated children and adults. However, it can often be observed in unvaccinated adults, as can posttussive emesis.


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