How Whooping Cough Is Treated

Whooping cough is treated with antibiotics that fight the bacterial infection

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Whooping cough is caused by bacteria, so it’s treated with antibiotics, which are medications that fight bacterial infections. It’s possible to recover without antibiotics, but the medicine can help you recover faster. In addition, you can use home remedies like a humidifier to manage symptoms at home.

Some people, especially young babies, may need to be hospitalized for whooping cough. In a hospital, they’ll be treated with fluids, suctioning mucus, and antibiotics.

This article will explain how whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is treated. It will cover prescription treatments, home remedies, and hospital treatments. It will also cover why cough suppressants aren’t usually recommended for whooping cough.

Man sick with cough

Charday Penn / Getty Images


The front-line treatment for whooping cough is antibiotics. Antibiotics are medicines that fight bacteria, including the Bordetella pertussis bacterium that causes whooping cough. Adults, children, and babies can be treated with antibiotics.

You’ll need to go to a healthcare provider to get antibiotics. If you know you or you child was exposed to whooping cough, even if you’re vaccinated, call your healthcare provider.

The antibiotics commonly prescribed for whooping cough are:

Antibiotics are most effective when they’re started early. This can be tricky since whooping cough symptoms start like a regular cold. By the time whooping cough appears, it may be too late for the antibiotics to be effective. That’s because the bacterium is no longer present, but damage from the infection is causing the cough.

Still, your healthcare provider will determine whether antibiotics are right for you or your child after conducting an exam and asking about how long you’ve had symptoms.

Home Remedies and Lifestyle

Even with antibiotics, whooping cough symptoms often last a long time. Certain lifestyle changes and home remedies, such as the following, can help you manage symptoms like coughing and vomiting:

  • Use a cool mist humidifier to help soothe your respiratory system and keep mucus loose.
  • Minimize allergens like dust, pet dander, and other allergens that can further irritate your airways. 
  • Eat small meals to reduce the risk of vomiting.
  • Stay hydrated by consuming lots of water and low-sodium soups.

Cough Medicine Is Not Recommended

Do not use over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicine to suppress the cough in adults or children with whooping cough. Coughing helps clear the airways, and it can be important to expel mucus by coughing. In addition, cough medicine is unlikely to work for whooping cough, and isn't recommended for kids under age 5.

Hospital Treatments

Some people with whooping cough will need to be treated in the hospital. About one-third of infants under a year old who get whooping cough will need to be treated in the hospital.

Although hospitals can provide a higher level of care, they follow the same basic treatment approaches as you would follow at home. These include:

  • Keeping the airways clear: At the hospital, providers may suction the airways to remove mucus. 
  • Staying hydrated: Patients in the hospital are likely to receive intravenous (IV) fluids. 
  • Taking antibiotics: Antibiotics can help kill the bacterium responsible. 

In addition, hospitals will monitor breathing and give supplemental oxygen if the patient is having trouble breathing independently. They may also give nebulizer treatments to help relax airways so mucus can move out of the lungs.

If you or your child has trouble breathing or shows signs of dehydration, call your healthcare provider or seek emergency medical attention immediately. 


Whooping cough is a bacterial infection that must be treated with antibiotics. The infection can resolve independently, but antibiotics will help you feel better more quickly. In addition to antibiotics, home remedies like using a humidifier, eating small meals, and staying hydrated can help keep symptoms under control.

When someone has whooping cough, it’s important to watch for signs of trouble breathing or dehydration and seek medical attention immediately if you notice them. 

A Word From Verywell

Many childhood illnesses are caused by viruses, and antibiotics will not help them. However, since whooping cough is caused by bacterial infection, antibiotics are an important and effective treatment tool. Call your healthcare provider for advice if you or your child has been exposed to whooping cough. 

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diagnosis and treatment (pertussis).

  2. Healthy Children. Whooping cough: What parents need to know.

  3. Kids’ Health. Whooping cough.

  4. State of New York. Pertussis or whooping cough fact sheet.

By Kelly Burch
Kelly Burch is has written about health topics for more than a decade. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and more.