Whooping cough and croup are both infectious respiratory conditions that mostly affect children.

There are some similarities between the two, including that initial symptoms of both resemble the common cold and that both are spread via saliva and air, but knowing the key differences between croup and whooping cough is vital, especially for parents of young children1.

While both conditions are caused by microorganisms, the type of microorganisms is different. Whooping cough is caused by bacteria while croup is caused by a virus1. Furthermore, whooping cough is very infectious, quite rare and can be very dangerous for babies and young children1. Croup, on the other hand, is a milder condition which can usually be managed at home and will ease after a few days. Whooping cough can last up to 10 weeks, and in some cases is known as the “100 day cough”1.

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a bacterial infection of the nose and throat, with early symptoms including mild coughing, sneezing, a runny nose and low fever. Diarrhoea can also occur during this early stage of the infection2. After about 7 to 10 days, the cough turns into “coughing spells”2, or a severe hacking cough followed by a high-pitched intake of breath that sounds like a “whoop”3 as the person tries to breath in air2,3. This is a dry cough which produces no mucus and can last up to one minute2. Infants may not make the actual whooping sound, but they can be seen gasping for air to trying to catch their breath during these coughing episodes and some may even vomit2.

When an infected person coughs or sneezes, tiny germ-laden droplets are released into the air and can be breathed into the lungs of anyone who might be nearby3.

The best way to prevent whooping cough is with a vaccine. It can be treated with antibiotics1, which can also help to prevent the infection from spreading to others2. Over the counter cough medicines, cough suppressants or expectorants are not recommended for whooping cough2.

Whooping cough can be very dangerous especially in infants younger than six months of age, and parents who suspect their child may be infected should see their doctor immediately. In most cases, babies with whooping cough will be hospitalised2,3.

Croup is a mild condition of the upper respiratory tract (nose and throat) which blocks respiration, causing a strong and characteristic “barking” cough that some people describe as sounding like a seal. Other symptoms include a runny nose, fever, difficulty breathing and a hoarse voice1. Croup is caused by the same virus that causes the common cold, and mostly affects children under the age of five4. Symptoms are often worse at night and when a child is crying or upset4.

Because croup is caused by a virus, treatment with antibiotics is unlikely to have an effect1. With home care, patients with croup can recover at home within a few days1. A cool-mist humidifier or steam-filled bathroom can help stop the severe coughing4. Drinking plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration is also recommended4. In severe cases, treatment might include the use of steroids1.

As with any contagious upper respiratory infection, following basic hygiene habits may help to prevent being infected. These include washing hands with soap or alcohol sanitizer before eating, avoid touching your mouth, nose or eyes and keeping a distance from people coughing or sneezing1.

DISCLAIMER: This editorial has been commissioned and brought to you by iNova Pharmaceuticals. Content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.

Name and business address of applicant: iNova Pharmaceuticals (Pty) Limited. Co. Reg. No. 1952/001640/07, 15e Riley Road, Bedfordview. Tel. No. 011 087 0000. www.inovapharma.co.za. For further information, speak to your healthcare professional. For full prescribing information, refer to the individual package inserts as approved by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA). Further information is available on request from iNova Pharmaceuticals. IN2803/18


  1. Difference between whooping cough and croup – Difference Between Net (http://www.differencebetween.net/science/health/difference-between-whooping-cough-and-croup/) Website accessed on 18 June 2018
  2. Whooping Cough: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment – Web MD (https://www.webmd.com/children/whooping-cough-symptoms-treatment). Website accessed on 18 June 2018) Website accessed on 18 June 2018
  3. Whooping cough – Mayo Clinic (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/whooping-cough/symptoms-causes/syc-20378973) Website accessed on 18 June 2018
  4. What is Croup – Kid’s Health (https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/croup.html) Website accessed on 18 June 2018