If you have a newborn or a young child, you may have heard a lot about croup. In this article, we answer some common questions you may have about this illness.
Croup is a type of upper respiratory infection that can affect the voice box, vocal cords, and the windpipe. These infections are more serious in infants and small children because these children have smaller airways than adults.
What happens in croup?
Children with croup usually have these symptoms:
- A “barky” cough which sounds like a dog’s or seal’s bark, noisy breathing, and sometimes heavy movement of the chest when breathing.
- The cough may be bad enough to cause gagging or vomiting.
- They may have a runny nose, fever, or both.
- Some infants are quite fussy, sleepy, and have poor appetites.
- Croup may begin suddenly and is generally worse at night. The worst part of the illness lasts two to three days, but your child may have a wet cough for a week or two.
How does a child get croup?
Your child can catch croup if he comes in contact with another person’s mucus (for example a sneeze, used tissues, touching hands if the person has not washed their hands). The illness usually begins two to three days after being exposed to the virus.
How do you treat croup?
Treatments for croup include:
- Humidity and cool air are the most important treatments for croup. Some ways to provide cool air and mist are:
- If it is cool outside, wrap your baby in blankets or dress your child in warm clothes and take him outside. Cool or cold air will decrease swelling of the airways. This usually takes at least 15 minutes in cool, night air.
- Use a cool-mist humidifier in your child’s room.
- Mist up the bathroom with hot shower steam and have your child sit in the bathroom for 10 minutes. You can cuddle your child and read a story to keep him calm.
- If your child is not in severe distress, offer him popsicles or cold drinks. This will soothe his throat and help reduce swelling.
- If your child wants to sit up, do not force him to lie down. Your child will usually sit in a position that makes breathing easy.
- You can give your child acetaminophen (Tylenol) for a temperature more than 101 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Do not give your child aspirin. Aspirin can cause brain, liver, and kidney damage and Reye’s syndrome in children.
- If the croup is very bad, your doctor may tell you to take your child to the hospital. In the emergency department (ED) your child will receive treatments to open his airways. He may receive oxygen or IV fluids (fluids given through a tiny tube into a vein) if needed. In the ED, the doctor will decide if your child needs to be admitted to the hospital. The length of time in the hospital depends on how long your child needs oxygen, IV fluids, or other treatments.
Are there complications from Croup?
The most common complications of croup are ear infections and pneumonia. The most serious complication is complete blockage of breathing. This is rare, but you will need to get help right away if you are worried about your child’s breathing. This could be life-threatening.
Call your doctor if…
- Your child has a hard time swallowing or is drooling.
- Your child is having so much difficulty breathing that he is restless and can’t sleep.
- Your child complains of an earache or, in an infant, if he pulls at his ears.
- Your child has a prolonged fever or his temperature goes above 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) or 102 degrees Fahrenheit in infants.
Go to the nearest hospital if…
- Your child does not have enough energy to eat, talk, or do simple tasks.
- Your child refuses to swallow or lie down.
- Your child has a bluish color on his lips or face.
- Your child’s chest severely sucks in with each breath.
- Your child has noisy breathing at rest. Your child is having trouble breathing.
- If your child is in severe distress or cannot breathe, call 911.
For a list of trending pathogens around the state of Utah, including croup, check out GermWatch.