According to estimates, whooping cough causes 10 to 30 percent of prolonged coughs in adults, reports Harvard Health Publications. Estimates indicate that 1 to 3 million people in the United States develop whooping cough each year, according to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
Although once thought of as a childhood disease, whooping cough, or pertussis, affects a significant number of teenagers and adults, notes Harvard Health Publications. The characteristic symptom of whooping cough in children is violent coughing that forces sufferers to empty their lungs of air and then inhale, which produces a "whooping" sound, states Johns Hopkins Medicine. In most cases, adults with the illness do not develop the classic "whoop" cough, explains the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. Coughing spasms typically get worse over time, sometimes lasting for weeks or months, and other symptoms may include runny nose, sneezing and fever.