February 06, 2007

Croup and Your Child


Croup is an infection usually caused by one of the cold viruses. Croup causes the trachea (windpipe) and larynx (voice box) to swell. This infection 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.

How do I know if my child has 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 and a barking, hacking cough. Croup may also cause a crowing noise (called stridor) when the child breathes in through the narrowed windpipe. Croup symptoms tend to affect children 1 to 3 years old more severely and may worsen at night.

What should I do if my child has croup?
Most children with mild croup can be treated at home. You should make your child as comfortable as possible. Make sure that your child gets plenty of rest and plenty to drink. 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 generally not recommended. You may give your child acetaminophen (brand names: Children's Tylenol, Infants' Tylenol) for his or her chest discomfort or discomfort due to fever.

If your child has a mild attack of stridor, try having him or her breathe moist air. This is called mist treatment. You can give your child a mist treatment at home by:

Having your child breathe through a warm, wet washcloth placed over the nose and mouth.

Running hot water in your shower with the bathroom door closed. Once the room has become steamy or has fogged up, sit with your child in the room for about 10 minutes.

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.

What if home treatment doesn't work?
Most children with 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.

When should I call the doctor?
Watch your child closely and call your doctor if:

Your child starts drooling or has trouble swallowing.
Your child's lips and skin are bluish or turn dark.
Your child's breathing doesn't sound better after mist treatment.
Your child is cranky or constantly uncomfortable.
Your child's breathing becomes more difficult.
Your child seems to feel worse.
You are worried.

Adapted from: American Academy of Family Physicians