A Common Childhood Illness Could Actually Be A Symptom Of Omicron

Along with the cold- or flu-like symptoms that children can develop when infected with COVID-19, doctors are now watching out for a new one: croup. Croup is a common childhood respiratory illness that affects about 3% of kids between the ages of 6 months and 3 years old in the U.S. annually (via American Family Physician). 

It can be caused by any one of several different parainfluenza (flu-type) viruses and is characterized by swelling of the trachea, larynx, and bronchi, which makes it hard to breathe freely. It can result in wheezy, labored breathing, and croup's characteristic "barking" cough. "Little kids' airways are so narrow that it takes far less inflammation to clog them," Dr. Buddy Creech, a pediatric infectious disease expert and director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told NBC.

With the Omicron variant of COVID-19 spreading quickly, doctors are noticing an increase in young patients who come in with croup and also test positive for COVID-19.

Omicron seems to make kids more susceptible to croup

"We know that your nasal tissues are much more receptive to Omicron, and the lung is not," pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Claudia Hoyen explained to CNN. "We've not seen croup with other surges. This one has been different."

Croup can be frightening for parents, but it's generally mild for children and in most cases can be treated at home, according to the Mayo Clinic. "[Croup can be] scary to hear, but it doesn't mean there is any problem with the lungs," pediatric infectious disease expert Dr. Amy Edwards told NBC. "The main treatment is to keep the upper airways open and clear until the inflammation subsides."

In rare cases though, croup can be severe. If your child struggles to breathe or swallow, makes high-pitched noises when both inhaling and exhaling, or has other serious symptoms, seek medical attention right away.