Croup is a common illness in young children, affecting ages anywhere from 3 months to 6 years old. Croup is the inflammation of the vocal cords (larynx) and the windpipe (trachea). It causes swelling, difficulty breathing and often stems from a virus.
A parent can detect croup in their child if they have a good understanding of the illness.
What Are the Symptoms?
As already mentioned, difficulty breathing is a major symptom. This may result in stridor, a high-pitched noisy sound when your child breathes. The infamous barking cough is another key symptom. The cough actually can sound like a seal barking. Fever may accompany viral croup, and your child may get a hoarse voice. In severe cases, your child may have difficulty breathing.
Croup often starts out as a cold, showing symptoms of a stuffy nose, hoarseness or fever. Children contract croup most commonly in the fall or winter. Generally, children recover within three days to one week.
Two different kinds of croup exist. A virus causes viral croup, which is the most common kind and is usually accompanied by a fever. Allergies or reflux cause spasmodic croup. This type can come on suddenly, often during the night, and leave your child gasping for breath. Spasmodic croup does not usually have a fever associated with it.
How Do Doctors Diagnose Croup?
If you take your child to receive medical attention, the doctor will listen for common signs and symptoms like a barking cough, stridor or respiratory distress. In severe cases, the doctor may order a neck x-ray. The x-ray will show the airway narrowing to a point, which is called a “steeple sign.”
How Should You Treat Croup?
You can treat most cases of croup at home. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen (for children older than 6 months) can relieve the fever. Having your child breathe in cool, moist air is also helpful. Have them go outside to breathe in some fresh air or use a cool-mist humidifier in their room. Make sure they drink plenty of fluids.
Severe cases of croup require hospitalization. Your child may receive a breathing treatment with epinephrine to decrease swelling. Doctors may use steroids to eliminate swelling also. Small doses of steroids are fine for your child and won’t affect them long-term.
Croup is very scary sounding, but understanding croup can help parents detect and treat it proactively. Awareness of signs and symptoms will prevent croup from becoming severe or lasting longer than it needs to.
For additional questions and specific treatment for your child, contact your pediatrician.