Also known as: viral croup, spasmodic croup.

What is croup?

Croup refers to a contagious infection of the upper breathing passages (the voice box/larynx, and windpipe/trachea) that irritates, inflames, swells and obstructs the upper airways of babies and young children, between the ages of 3 months and 5 years.

It results in breathing difficulties and a characteristic cough that ends with a high-pitched whistling type noise when the child breathes in.

What causes croup?

Croup can be caused by any virus that affects the upper airways (most frequently the parainfluenza virus).

What are the symptoms of croup?

Croup usually begins with symptoms like a common “cold” which goes onto the development of a loud barking type cough, worse at night and with crying. Symptoms usually last for 3-5 days.

In about 5% of children, breathing difficulties (fast rate and struggling to breathe), plus drooling, difficulty swallowing, anxiety/listlessness/agitation or fatigue or the development of a bluish color of the lips, nail beds, skin and tongue (cyanosis), requires the child to be hospitalized.

What are croup care options?

In most cases, croup can be managed at home (check with your pediatrician for things to make your child more comfortable).

If symptoms persist or get worse your pediatrician may prescribe steroids (dexamethasone) to reduce the airway inflammation and swelling. Hospitalization is needed in severe instances of croup; rarely a breathing tube placed in the windpipe may be needed to help your child breathe more easily.

Other care options include:

  • Use a humidifier or sit in the bathroom with your child while the hot water is running in the shower.
  • Treat your child's fever with over-the-counter medicines, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Never give aspirin to a child younger than 18 years old.
  • Sleep in the same room as your child, so that you know right away if he or she starts having trouble breathing.
  • Avoid exposure to cigarette smoke.

Reviewed by: Sunil U Bochare, M.D.

This page was last updated on: November 18, 2021 10:53 AM

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