Croup: When it’s more than just a cough


When I was a new parent, I was often thrown into a panic when I heard a barking noise coming from my child’s room. I often couldn’t tell whether the cough was something that I could treat at home or if I needed to take my kiddo to the doctor. When it came to croup, I only had to visit the doctor a handful of times–but I was glad I took the symptoms seriously. Keeping in mind I’m a mother not a medical doctor, here’s what I’ve learned the past 18 years about croup.

What is croup?

Croup is a viral illness that does not have a single cause. Croup can develop from several different viruses, many of which also cause the common cold. It can be caused by RSV, adenovirus, parainfluenza, and even the flu. While other infections affect the nose or lungs the most, croup affects the larynx and causes swelling. Croup is spread by coming into contact with the mucus of an infected person, such as through sneezing, used tissues, or not washing hands.

Who is at risk?

Anybody can get the viruses that cause croup. However, children between ages three months and five years are most at risk for an illness to develop into croup. The small diameter of a child’s trachea can make it very difficult for the child to breathe if the trachea becomes narrow. An adult, on the other hand, may not be affected as severely because an adult’s airway is so much bigger.

What are the symptoms?

Croup has a few telltale symptoms that set it apart from other illnesses like the cold or flu. It is characterized by a barking cough that may sound like a dog’s or seal’s bark. A child with croup may also make a high-pitched noise when breathing called stridor and have heavy movement of the chest when breathing. Several symptoms are similar to a cold, like a runny nose and fever. Croup symptoms can come on suddenly and are usually worse at night. The illness can also cause a decreased appetite.

When should I go to the doctor?

A child with croup needs to be seen by a doctor if symptoms become severe. If he or she has a hard time swallowing or is drooling or restless and cannot sleep due to difficulty breathing, call the doctor. A common complication of croup is an ear infection, so call the doctor if a child with croup complains of an earache or pulls at his or her ears. In some cases, a child may need emergency attention when breathing becomes extremely impaired. The child should be taken to the hospital if he or she does not have the energy for simple tasks, refuses to swallow or lie down, or has a bluish color. If a child’s chest sucks in with each breath or he or she is having trouble breathing, the child should be taken to the hospital.

How is it treated?

Most cases of croup can be treated at home. The most beneficial treatments are humidity and cold air. Turn on the shower and have your child sit in the bathroom for 10 minutes, or use a cold mist humidifier in their room. The humidifier has personally worked wonders for my children. Bundling them up and taking them outdoors in the cold air also works well. Cold drinks and ice pops can also help ease throat pain and reduce swelling. A child can have acetaminophen or ibuprofen under a doctor’s direction for a fever. Children with severe symptoms may need steroid treatments to open the airway, as well as oxygen and intravenous fluids. In rare, serious cases, hospitalization may be required.

Croup can be a scary illness, but children will usually get better on their own with home treatment. With that said, it’s always better to be safe than sorry–so don’t hesitate to call a doctor if you are worried and/or if symptoms become severe.


This article was originally published by Green Valley News. 


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