Croup is a common childhood viral infection. The condition causes the voice box, windpipe and the airways to the lungs to swell, causing difficulty in breathing. Croup usually affects children aged from six months to three years, although it can affect children as old as 15. Generally, the symptoms are less severe in older children.
Croup is most prevalent during the winter months. Boys are more likely to be affected than girls. Some children suffer recurrent episodes of the infection.
There are two types of croup:
- Viral croup – this is caused by a viral infection
- Spasmodic croup – this condition is caused by an allergic reaction
Croup Symptoms – Early Warning Signs
The early warning signs for a viral croup infection are:
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
These symptoms can be seen in a range of illnesses, so it may be hard for you to distinguish early on if your baby has croup, especially if you’ve not experienced it before.
If your child has croup, within 48 hours the following symptoms will develop:
- A bark-like cough
- A croaky voice
- A stridor – a harsh grating sound when inhaling. This may be most noticeable when the child cries
- Difficulty swallowing
- Difficulty breathing
The symptoms of spasmodic croup include the above, but the cough and stridor will usually develop suddenly and often at night.
If your child is showing symptoms of croup, you should take him to see your doctor. The doctor will diagnose the condition by listening to the barking cough and examining his throat. The doctor will advise treatment based on the seriousness of the condition.
Most cases of croup clear up within 48 hours, although symptoms can sometimes last two weeks. Croup is often a mild condition that doesn't require treatment. To manage this condition at home you should:
- Sit the child upright
- Make sure you comfort the child when distressed (crying can worsen the symptoms)
- Ensure the child drinks plenty of water or breastmilk if breastfed
According to this Royal Children’s Hospital article, steam therapy is no longer recommended for treating those who suffer from croup, as research and evidence has shown that it is of no benefit.
The symptoms of a viral croup infection will usually worsen at night. If the symptoms are too severe to be managed at home, your doctor may prescribe steroids to treat the infection. In severe cases, your child may need to be admitted to hospital for help breathing. Oxygen may be administered by nebuliser or mask to aid breathing. In severe cases, adrenaline may also be used.
When To Seek Emergency Treatment
This condition can usually be managed at home. However, you should seek emergency treatment if your child develops any of the following symptoms:
- Severe breathing difficulty
- Too breathless to feed or talk
- A worsening stridor or cough
- Dark, blue-tinged or pale skin
- Chest skin appearing pulled in or tight
- Abnormal sleepiness
Have You Experienced Croup?
Share your experiences or ask any questions below in our comment box, or in the BellyBelly forums children’s medical conditions forum.