What is croup?

Croup is an infection usually caused by a virus. It causes the trachea (windpipe) and larynx (voice box) to swell, which results in the harsh “barking” cough. Croup usually lasts 5 to 6 days and is more common during the winter months and early spring.
Children who are 5 years old or younger are more likely to have croup. If your child was born prematurely, he or she is also at higher risk of getting croup.


How do I know if my child has croup?

If you’re not sure if your child has croup, your doctor can diagnose it. The most common symptoms of croup are fever, hoarseness of the voice and a barking, hacking cough. Croup symptoms tend to affect children 1 to 3 years old more severely and may worsen at night. Call your doctor if you notice a high-pitched noise (called stridor) when your child breathes in or if your child is having problems breathing.


What should I do if my child has croup?

Most children who have a mild case of croup can be treated at home. Make sure that your child gets plenty of rest and drinks plenty of fluids. When your child has a croupy cough, it is very important to increase the amount of liquids that he or she drinks. Cough medicines are not recommended, especially for children under age 2. You may give your child acetaminophen (brand names: Children’s Tylenol, Infants’ Tylenol) for chest discomfort or discomfort caused by fever.
Moist air seems to help children who have croup breathe easier. This is called mist treatment. You can give your child a mist treatment at home by:

  • Using a humidifier in your child’s bedroom.
  • Having your child breathe through a warm, wet washcloth placed over the nose and mouth.
  • Running hot water in your shower with the bathroom door closed. Once the room has become steamy or has fogged up, sit with your child in the room for about 10 minutes.

Cool air may also help reduce the swelling in your child’s airways. In cooler months, taking your child outside for a few minutes may bring some relief.

What if home treatment doesn’t work?

Most children who have croup will get better with treatment at home. But if your child’s croup symptoms are severe or don’t seem to be responding to home treatment, call your doctor. He or she may prescribe medication to help reduce the swelling in your child’s airways.

When should I call the doctor?

Watch your child closely and call your doctor if:

  • Your child makes a noisy, high-pitched sound (stridor) when he or she breathes in.
  • Your child starts drooling or has trouble swallowing.
  • Your child’s lips and skin around the nose, mouth of fingernails are bluish or turn dark.
  • Your child’s breathing doesn’t sound better after mist treatment.
  • Your child is very cranky, irritable or constantly uncomfortable.
  • Your child is having difficulty breathing.
  • Your child seems to feel worse.
  • You are worried.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • It seems like my child cries all the time. Could he/she have croup?
  • Is there anything I can do to make my child more comfortable?
  • My child makes a whistling sound when he/she takes a breath. Is that a symptom of croup?
  • Should I use a warm mist humidifier or a cold mist humidifier in my child’s room?
  • When should I call the doctor?
  • Are there any medicines I can give my child?

Written by editorial staff