Croup is a common winter childhood illness. It can be a scary experience for parents and children and can become serious very quickly. We decided to shed some light on this little-known-of illness.
Croup is caused by the same group of viruses that cause the common cold. In children this virus can infect the upper airways resulting in a barking cough, hoarseness, fever and breathing difficulties. Croup usually affects infants and toddlers aged between six months and three years old although a child of any age can be infected. It usually lasts for five to six days with the second or third night being the most difficult.
second or third night being the most difficult.
Symptoms of croup include a barking cough, stridor (a whistling noise in their breathing), and hoarseness. The airways can become swollen and make breathing difficult. Sometimes children can wake up after being asleep for a few hours gasping for breath.
Most children with croup will get better without any treatment. Because the symptoms of croup become more serious at night-time it may mean a late night trip to the emergency department for severe cases. Don’t hesitate to call an ambulance if you feel that your child needs serious attention.
Get help immediately if any of the following symptoms are present:
- Your child can’t breathe properly
- They are dribbling and can’t swallow properly
- Their chest sinks in when they inhale
- They are very drowsy or can’t be woken
There are some things you can do at home to help croup. The most effective is to sit your child in a steamy bathroom when they are having a croup spasm. Run a hot shower or bath and steam up the room. Sit in there with them and read them a story or cuddle them. The warm, humid air should ease their breathing within 20 minutes.
You can also try sitting them upright on the sofa and calming them down. If they are upset this will make it harder for them to breathe. Try not to show your panic as this will upset them more.
Make sure that your child has lots of fluids, even though they may refuse drinks because of a sore throat. If they are in pain give them the appropriate dose of paracetamol. Make sure that they get plenty of rest.
If your child does end up in hospital the treatment will usually include oxygen infusion, steroids and observation. For severe croup an adrenaline nebuliser and/or asthma inhaler may be given. Because croup is a viral infection antibiotics will not work.
Remember to keep your child away from school, day care or kindergarten until their fever has gone and they have recovered. Croup is just like a cold and can be passed from child to child in the same way. The best way to prevent catching the virus is to wash hands thoroughly and regularly.
If you are ever unsure about what to do when dealing with a child that has croup you can call the New Zealand Healthline on 0800 611 116 for support and further information.