Croup often develops due to an inflammation of the upper airways, specifically in the voice box (larynx) and windpipes (trachea) which often leads to a rough, barking cough or hoarseness, causing the airways to narrow and restrict breathing, especially when a child cries. Most cases of croup are caused by common-respiratory viruses. It is contagious and can be passed to others through close contact and through the air.
Croup is most severe in children 6 months to 3 years old, but can affect older kids as well. Some children are more susceptible to developing croup when they get a viral upper respiratory infection.
In addition to croup’s harsh cough, children may be hoarse and have mild breathing problems. Sitting up straight sometimes makes it easier to breathe. An inspiratory noise, called stridor, indicates a more significant case of croup. For stridor at rest (not with cough, activity or crying) call 911. For episodic stridor, seek medical evaluation as soon as possible.
Most cases of viral croup are mild. Try to keep your child calm during a croup attack, since crying or gasping can worsen the swelling of the windpipe. Moist or cool air seems to have a soothing effect on the throat. Try having your child sit in front of a humidifier or in a warm, steamy bathroom. Cool night air may also help, but be sure to keep your child warmly clothed when outside. If over 6 months, give Ibuprofen to decrease throat swelling. Keep your child hydrated with water, ice, or popsicles. This will also help keep the throat moist; dryness can irritate and worsen the throat. Keep your child away from airborne irritants, such as cigarette smoke, and avoid over-the-counter cough or cold medicines, which do not help croup.
Contact your doctor if your child has any of the following symptoms:
- Struggling to breathe
- High-pitched or screeching noise when inhaling (stridor)
- A bluish or pale color around the mouth
- Trouble swallowing
- Signs of dehydration (including extreme fatigue, sunken eyes, a dry mouth, unable to urinate or has only been able to produce a small amount of dark urine for up to 12 hours)
- A tired appearance