Croup is an infection usually caused by a virus. It causes the trachea (windpipe) and larynx (voice box) to swell, which results in the harsh "barking" cough. Croup usually lasts 5 to 6 days and is more common during the winter months and early spring.
Children who are 5 years old or younger are more likely to have croup. If your child was born prematurely, he or she is also at higher risk of getting croup.
If you're not sure if your child has croup, your doctor can diagnose it. The most common symptoms of croup are fever, hoarseness of the voice and a barking, hacking cough. Croup symptoms tend to affect children 1 to 3 years old more severely and may worsen at night. Call your doctor if you notice a high-pitched noise (called stridor) when your child breathes in or if your child is having problems breathing.
Most children who have a mild case of croup can be treated at home. Make sure that your child gets plenty of rest and drinks plenty of fluids. When your child has a croupy cough, it is very important to increase the amount of liquids that he or she drinks. Cough medicines are not recommended, especially for children younger than 4 years of age. You may give your child acetaminophen (brand names: Children's Tylenol, Infants' Tylenol) for chest discomfort or discomfort caused by fever.
Moist air seems to help children who have croup breathe easier. This is called mist treatment. You can give your child a mist treatment at home by:
Cool air may also help reduce the swelling in your child's airways. In cooler months, taking your child outside for a few minutes may bring some relief.
Most children who have croup will get better with treatment at home. But if your child's croup symptoms are severe or don't seem to be responding to home treatment, call your doctor. He or she may prescribe medication to help reduce the swelling in your child's airways.
Watch your child closely and call your doctor if:
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff