Also known as pertussis, whooping cough is a type of bacterial infection that affects the entire respiratory system, including the lungs and the airways. It is caused by the Bordetella pertussis bacteria and is known to spread very quickly. Whooping cough is a vaccine-preventable disease—meaning that there is a vaccine available for it. The first dose of this vaccine, DTap, should be administered to babies when they are six weeks old.

Read more: Vaccinations for newborns, infants and children

Whooping cough usually affects infants younger than six months of age who haven’t received the DTap vaccine. Rarely, this infection can also occur in children between 11 years and 18 years of age because the effects of the vaccine may start to fade around this time. The infection is even rarer in adults but it can occur if whooping cough is doing the rounds in the community where you live. The symptoms, if you’ve ever been immunized, will be much less severe and the chances of full recovery with proper care are very high.

Whooping cough usually starts as a normal common cold does. Runny nose, fatigue, a low-grade fever, and mild or occasional cough are all that show up at first. Within a week or so, the coughing becomes worse and turns into the dominant symptom. This cough can last between two-three weeks and up to 10 weeks and is very contagious during the earliest stages of the disease (which is roughly two to three weeks since the beginning of the cough). 

Pertussis is usually treated with antibiotics, which reduce its contagiousness to five days instead of weeks. Family members of the infected person are also often prescribed preventive antibiotics for protection. While antibiotics can treat the infection at its roots, the coughing is not immediately relieved through this medication. This is where home remedies for whooping cough can come in handy. Here’s everything you need to know about home remedies for whooping cough.

  1. Whooping cough remedies for infants
  2. Whooping cough remedies for adults
  3. Whooping cough home remedies

Whooping cough can be quite dangerous for infants below the age of six months—doctors recommend hospital-based treatment for it. This is because getting infected with B. pertussis can lead to severe health issues in infants especially if they haven’t been fully immunized, even when they’re under 12 months old. The following are some complications of whooping cough which are seen in unimmunized infants below six months of age:

This is the reason why infants diagnosed with whooping cough are usually treated in the hospital. Intensive care during the initial phases of sickness is reported to reduce the risk of complications. Older children who develop whooping cough due to any reason can be treated at home with antibiotics and home remedies for the cough.

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Adults who have ever been immunized against whooping cough are likely to have a less severe brush with the infection if they do contract it.

Apart from the discomfort caused by the coughing—which can be managed with home remedies—pertussis in adults can cause nosebleeds, sore ribs, and hernia.

Some adults might get chronic whooping cough due to repeated exposures and improper treatment. In such a case, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the following symptoms may also show up:

Adults with whooping cough, chronic or otherwise, should isolate/quarantine themselves, follow proper hand and respiratory hygiene, and consult a doctor about getting antibiotic treatment. Home remedies to ease the coughing are also recommended.

Whooping cough is usually treated with antibiotics. But, if you’ve had pertussis for two-three weeks already, it’s unlikely that antibiotics will help. Moreover, antibiotics can help root out the infection, but they don’t treat or ease the cough symptom, which can be quite severe. To manage the cough and reduce its intensity, home remedies are usually prescribed. The following are some of the most common home remedies for whooping cough that you can use:

Humidifier for whooping cough

The presence of moisture in the air can help loosen the mucus in the lungs and reduce the intensity and severity of the cough. Installing a humidifier in the bedroom of the whooping cough patient can, therefore, help make the condition better. Whether the patient is a baby or an adult, cold-air or cool-mist humidifiers are best suited for this purpose. 

What to do:

  • Remember to use distilled or clean water in the humidifier and keep it running, especially when the patient is sleeping and at night.
  • If you don’t have a humidifier, run a hot shower in the bathroom, let the steam build up and sit in there for 10 minutes.
  • Steam inhalation is also effective for loosening the mucus, so you could try it thrice a day, especially before bedtime.

Turmeric for whooping cough

Turmeric has antiviral, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, mainly because it contains a yellow pigment called curcumin. This is why turmeric is effective in treating whooping cough, shortness of breath and other respiratory problems.

What to do:

  • Having a paste made of raw turmeric mixed with water early in the morning may help in reducing inflammation and other symptoms of cough.
  • You can also mix a teaspoon of turmeric powder in a glass of hot milk (golden milk), and consume it twice daily.

Garlic for whooping cough

Allicin is the main active ingredient in garlic, which not only gives garlic cloves their smell and taste but also makes them potent against colds, coughs and the flu. This is because allicin has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, and is a strong decongestant.

What to do:

  • Chewing on a whole garlic clove every morning has the potential to keep coughs away.
  • Consuming minced garlic cloves mixed with a little honey if and when you have the whooping cough is also effective.

Ginger for whooping cough

Ginger not only boosts the immune system but is also effective against whooping cough. It’s packed with antimicrobial, antiviral and antibacterial properties, and is known to prevent inflammation. Gingerol, an active compound in fresh ginger, is a natural expectorant. Expectorants help in clearing out the mucus in the airways and lungs.

What to do:

  • Having ginger tea or chewing on a fresh ginger stick can relieve the symptoms of whooping cough. However, consuming too much ginger can cause indigestion and heartburn.

Warm broths for whooping cough

Clear soups and broths made with vegetables or meat—and especially bone broth—are not just nutritious, but also rehydrating. These contain all the nutrients that their basic ingredients do, which are usually high in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Consuming warm broths and soups when sick with whooping cough not only helps clear out the mucus, but also helps reduce inflammation in the throat.

What’s more, the nutritional boost from such soups can also help bolster your immune system and help you recover faster.

What to do:

  • Prepare the soup by adding about 200 grams of vegetables and/or meats to a litre of drinking water. Season lightly and let it simmer for a long time. You can prepare this with meat bones for a delicious and healthy broth.
  • If the soup contains bone, strain it before consuming.

Green tea for whooping cough

The fact that green tea is chock full of antioxidants is well-known. But when it comes to whooping cough, it’s the catechins that matter. Catechins (a type of flavonoid) have potent antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. Most tea varieties have sufficient amounts of catechins, including black tea and oolong tea. However, green tea has the highest catechin content, which makes it the perfect warm drink to have when suffering from whooping cough.

What to do:

  • Drink two-three cups of green tea while unwell, and add some honey to it if you like.

Salt water gargle for whooping cough

Saltwater or saline gargle is one of the best home remedies for cough and cold, and whooping cough is no exception. Gargling with warm water can help soothe the throat, but adding salt to the water has added benefits. Saline water can reduce inflammation and swelling while flushing out the microbes in the throat. It also helps clear out the airways better.

What to do:

  • Gargle thrice a day or as needed while suffering from any cough, including whooping cough.

Honey for whooping cough

If your baby has whooping cough and is less than 12 months old, then do not administer honey as a remedy for anything. This can cause botulism, a rare but life-threatening condition. However, if your baby is older—or if the patient is an adult—then having honey has more benefits than side effects. Honey is not just a great source of antioxidants, but also has antibacterial properties and can help reduce inflammation.

What to do:

  • Mix a little grated ginger with a teaspoon of honey and you have a natural cough syrup that can work better than most over-the-counter cough syrups.

Oregano for whooping cough

Oregano tastes great on pizza, but did you know that this herb is a natural expectorant? Oregano leaves and extracts might taste slightly bitter, but they can help remove mucus from the lungs. What’s more, oregano is packed with antioxidants, which can help reduce inflammation due to whooping cough and boost the immune system as well.

What to do:

  • To make oregano tea, all you need to do is place a teaspoon of dried oregano leaves (the same you use for cooking but without any spice or seasoning) in a cup of hot water. Let the leaves steep for two-three minutes, then drain it out the tea into another cup and drink away.

Lemon juice for whooping cough

Packed with vitamin C and loads of antioxidants, lemon juice is well known as a home remedy for cough and cold. Lemon juice kills microbes in the throat, airways and lungs when you drink it.

What to do:

Mix a teaspoon of lemon juice with warm water and drink it twice a day to manage the symptoms of whooping cough better. You can also add some honey to the mix if you feel like it.

Licorice for whooping cough

Licorice, also known as mulethi in India, is a natural expectorant and bronchodilator (dilates or widens the airways). It can prevent lung infections and also reduce the symptoms of lung infection. Licorice is used against whooping cough too.

Licorice root powder or extracts can help clear out the lungs, make breathing easier, and also help the damaged lung tissues recover.

What to do:

Mix a teaspoon of licorice root powder with a glass of warm water, and add a little honey if needed. Drink this twice a day until the infection and its symptoms subside.

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  2. Scanlon, Karen M. et al. Novel therapies for the treatment of pertussis disease. Pathog Dis. 2015 Nov; 73(8): ftv074. PMID: 26394802
  3. Nemours Children’s Health System [Internet]. Jacksonville (FL): The Nemours Foundation; c2017. Whooping Cough (Pertussis)
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [Internet], Atlanta (GA): US Department of Health and Human Services; Pertussis (Whooping Cough)
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