This page has information on croup in children, including how to recognise it and what to do if your child has croup.
If you have a specific question, click on the link below. Otherwise read on for a review of this common childhood condition.
It is an infection involving the larynx (the voice box), the trachea, (wind-pipe) and the bronchus (air tube) - so it is also known as laryngo-tracheo-bronchitis. The infection causes the lining of the airways (larynx, trachea and bronchus) to become swollen and this narrows the airway. This narrowing causes obstruction to airflow and this obstruction causes the symptoms of croup.
The infection is usually caused by a virus - the most common one is Parainfluenzae type 3 virus. There are some infections caused by bacteria that can look similar, but they are called other names (epiglottitis, tracheitis).
It starts off like many viral infections with symptoms of a cold for a couple of days - so:
Gradually over a couple of days, these symptoms appear:
If the condition was thought to be epiglottitis or tracheitis rather than croup, intravenous antibiotics would be necessary. If your child exhibits any of the serious signs in the list below, see your doctor - go there now.
In most cases, it isn't dangerous and most children will need no more than a dose of steroid like dexamethasone or budesonide. However, the obstruction to the airway can be severe enough to compromise air getting to the lungs and in cases like these, hospital admission and artificial ventilation are necessary.
Also, the bacterial infections such as epiglottitis and tracheitis have similar symptoms and these require hospital admission and artificial ventilation. If your child has any serious symptoms, then get urgent medical attention - to view serious signs, click here.
Like most viruses, symptoms get worse for a few days, usually reach a peak about day 3 or 4 and then improve over a few days so the whole episode lasts 7 - 10 days. Children often develop stridor on about day 3 or 4, which is often the worst part of the infection.
Many respiratory illnesses seem to get worse at night. It's not entirely clear why that happens but children with croup may have stridor one night and then be quite happy during the next day only to develop stridor again the next night. Don't panic - that's normal.
The most important thing is to keep calm and to try and calm your child. Crying only makes breathing more difficult.
Although studies have not shown that humidified air works conclusively, some parents find going into the bathroom, turning on the hot taps to make a hot, steamy environment can calm their child. However, be careful not to burn or scald your child with the steam!!
Remember, if you are worried about your child's breathing, get medical attention.
Johnson D. Clinical Evidence, BMJ. 2004
Last reviewed 5 June 2011
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