What Is Croup And How To Treat Your Children When They Have It

A viral infection marked by fever, hoarseness, and a loud, barking cough, croup can be a source of anxiety and stress, both for parents and children (via Mayo Clinic). The disease, which is most prevalent in babies and toddlers, is caused by an upper airway infection that can make breathing difficult and lead to that signature, unpleasant cough. The good news is that, in most cases, croup isn't serious and can usually be treated at home.

Generally, croup is caused by a virus, such as the flu, adenovirus, or RSV (per Cedars Sinai). However, it can also be triggered by reflux, bacteria, or even allergies. Spread by direct contact, croup usually starts in the nose before moving its way down to the throat and the lungs. Once that happens, the larynx and the trachea swell, making it harder for air to enter the lungs and causing the classic croup symptoms to develop. Within the first 12 to 48 hours of symptoms forming, the symptoms can be worse, especially breathing problems, according to UpToDate

Croup can present as a cold

In the U.S., croup is most commonly seen in the fall and winter months, and can spread via coughs or sneezes, as well as by the germs getting on hands, utensils, or toys (via Harvard Health Publishing). Children can also be exposed to croup by a sick classmate or relative. Once a child develops symptoms of croup, they usually present as having a cold compounded by a low-grade fever. However, in most cases, children who develop croup tend to get over the illness fairly quickly without any serious pulmonary issues. 

In more serious cases of croup, children can develop a condition known as stridor, which is marked by a whistling sound when breathing, as per PhysicianOne Urgent Care. Stridor itself isn't always an immediate cause for concern, but if it occurs when your child is resting, that can be a sign the croup has become more severe. Parents should also be on the lookout for signs if their child is trying too hard to breathe. Look at the skin by his or her ribs to see if it is tightening when they breathe. Also be aware of signs of sluggishness or sleepiness, which can also indicate difficulty breathing. If any of these symptoms are spotted, you should contact your doctor immediately. 

Croup can usually be treated at home

To treat croup at home, parents can try to keep the air from getting too dry by using a humidifier or even by running a hot shower and letting the bathroom fill up with steam, as per WebMD. Then sit with your child for about 10 minutes and let him or her breathe in the steam to ease their cough. You should also make sure your child is well hydrated, giving him or her warm fluids regularly to break up mucus. Keeping your child calm is also important, as stress, and crying can trigger more coughing. If you want to try it, you can also take your child outside to breathe in cool night air, although make sure that he or she is dressed appropriately. 

If your child shows signs of stridor while resting, has trouble speaking due to lack of breath, or has bluish lips or fingernails, you should call your doctor immediately. He or she may recommend treatment with epinephrine, which can help bring down the swelling, according to healthychildren.org. Plus, steroids can also be prescribed, which can be inhaled or given orally. In some cases, they may also be administered via an injection. It's important to monitor your child's symptoms for the duration of their illness to be sure that his or her symptoms don't get any worse.