If your child has been coughing lately, you may have concerns about the common cold. However, if that cough sounds worse by the day, it’s possible that the cause is croup.
While it’s common for children to acquire croup, it’s essential to learn how to recognize symptoms to provide adequate treatment and avoid complications.
What is Croup?
Croup is an infection of the upper respiratory system. It’s caused by a virus that makes the windpipe and bronchial tubes swell. As a result, the patient has a rough cough that is often referred to as a “barking cough”. Although it can happen in adults, it happens most often in children, since they have smaller airways.
Types of Croup
There are two types of croup:
This is the most common type of croup. It starts out as a common cold, then it develops into a barking cough that is the telltale sign of a croup infection.
This type of croup is not caused by infection. It’s triggered by allergic reactions and comes on suddenly.
Viral croup is caused by the parainfluenza virus, which is spread by germs in the air from coughing or sneezing, or close personal contact with someone who’s infected. These germs can survive on surfaces for several days.
Spasmodic croup is caused by allergic reactions and often runs in families.
Croup often begins as a common cold. If there is enough inflammation and coughing, a child will develop the following:
A loud barking cough that’s further aggravated by crying and coughing, as well as anxiety and agitation, setting up a cycle of worsening signs and symptoms
Labored or noisy breathing
Wheezing sound when taking a deep breath
Crying or agitation that triggers coughing fits
These symptoms often worsen at night, interrupting sleep.
Croup is typically diagnosed by a doctor. He/she will:
Observe your child’s breathing
Listen to your child’s chest with a stethoscope
Examine your child’s throat
Sometimes X-rays or other tests are used to rule out other possible illnesses.
Treatment mostly consists of home remedies (as described below) and over-the-counter medication as instructed by a pediatrician.
Can croup go away on its own?
Yes, croup can heal on its own if the infection is mild. It normally takes between three and five days. However, if the symptoms worsen as the days go by, don’t wait the full five days. See a doctor to avoid any complications.
Medications for Croup
If your child’s symptoms persist beyond three to five days or worsen, your child’s doctor may prescribe these medications:
A type of steroid (glucocorticoid) may be given to reduce inflammation in the airway. Benefits will typically be felt within a few hours. A single dose of dexamethasone is usually recommended because of its long-lasting effects.
Epinephrine is also effective in reducing airway inflammation and may be given in an inhaled form – using a nebulizer for more severe symptoms. It’s fast acting, but its effects wear off quickly. Your child will likely need to be observed in the emergency room for several hours before going home, to determine if a second dose is needed.
Croup Home Remedies
Most cases of croup are treated at home.
Use a humidifier to make breathing easier.
Give your child plenty of fluids.
Let your child rest and take lots of naps.
When your child is sleeping, prop their head with an extra pillow.
Keep your child calm. Any agitation may cause a coughing fit which can irritate swollen windpipes.
Complications of Croup
Complications of croup are rare. However, pay close attention to how the virus is affecting your child as bacteria in the trachea (also known as the windpipe) can severely restrict breathing.
When to See a Doctor for Croup
If your child’s cough hasn’t improved within five days, seek medical attention as soon as possible. See a doctor sooner if the infection is causing breathing problems, or if your child develops a bluish tint to the skin around their nose or mouth.
Prevention tips for keeping croup at bay are the same as for the common cold and influenza:
Teach your child to cough and sneeze into the crook of their elbow, coughing or sneezing into their hands will guarantee spreading germs to others.
Teach your child to wash their hands frequently: after using the bathroom, after playing outside, before eating, and when coming home from daycare or school.
If your child is sick, keep them out of daycare or school. If a classmate is sick and still attending school, keep your child home.
Keep your child’s vaccinations current.
Need Home Care for Croup? Contact Care Options for Kids
At Care Options for Kids, we offer compassionate pediatric care.