Croup is a respiratory illness that typically affects young children. It is caused by a viral infection that leads to inflammation of the upper airway, including the voice box (larynx) and windpipe (trachea). The inflammation can cause the airway to become narrow, making it difficult for the child to breathe.
Croup usually starts with symptoms similar to a cold, such as a runny nose and fever, but it can progress quickly to a harsh, barking cough and a hoarse voice. The child may also have difficulty breathing, especially when they are active or upset. In severe cases, croup can cause a high-pitched whistling sound when the child inhales, called stridor.
Most cases of croup are mild and can be managed at home with rest and supportive care, such as using a cool-mist humidifier or taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever and discomfort. However, in some cases, croup can be more severe and require medical attention, including hospitalization and treatments such as nebulized epinephrine or corticosteroids.
The symptoms of croup can vary in severity, but they generally start off as similar to a common cold and progress to include:
- A barking cough, which can be dry or accompanied by mucus
- Hoarse voice
- Stridor (a high-pitched, whistling sound when inhaling)
- Difficulty breathing, especially when active or upset
- Rapid breathing
- Runny nose and congestion
- Sore throat
- Irritability and restlessness
- Bluish skin color (in severe cases)
It is important to note that not all children with croup will experience all of these symptoms. Additionally, some children may have symptoms that are more severe than others. If you suspect your child may have croup, it is important to seek medical attention.
Treatment for Croup
Mild cases of croup can often be treated at home with supportive care, which may include:
- Providing plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration
- Keeping your child calm and comfortable to reduce anxiety and ease breathing
- Using a cool-mist humidifier or taking your child into a steamy bathroom to help ease breathing
- Using over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, to help reduce fever and discomfort
In some cases, your child’s doctor may prescribe medication, such as corticosteroids or epinephrine, to reduce inflammation and swelling in the airway. These medications can be given orally or through a nebulizer to help open up the airways and make breathing easier.
It is important to monitor your child’s breathing closely and seek medical attention if their breathing becomes more difficult or if they develop any signs of severe croup, such as extreme fatigue, drooling, or a bluish color in their skin or lips.
In severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary to monitor your child’s breathing and provide oxygen or other treatments as needed. Your child’s doctor will determine the best course of treatment based on the severity of their symptoms and overall health.