A barking cough inspires dread in parents of young kids — and sometimes also leads to emergency room visits. As far as childhood illnesses go, croup is fairly common but still unpleasant. How do you know when it’s serious, and what can you do to help your kid feel better while the condition runs its course? Croup is a respiratory infection that is common at this time of the year, during cold and flu season. And since it’s cause by a virus, it spreads the same way as influenza and the common cold. Its most obvious symptom is a barking cough that often gets worse at night. Because croup is a condition that young children get, and one that affects breathing, it can be quite scary for both parents and kids. Most of the time croup isn’t serious and your child will feel better in a few days, but because it’s occasionally serious, it’s important to know what to look out for and when to seek medical attention.
The Symptoms Of Croup
The main symptom of croup is a cough that sounds something like a seal barking (you can hear an example here). The cough is often worse at night (often symptoms improve during the day then become worse again in the evening) and is aggravated by crying, anxiety, agitation — and coughing, which can set up a vicious cycle. Other symptoms include hoarse voice, noisy or laboured breathing, and a fever, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Other Symptoms Of A Croup
A loud, barking cough is the tell-tale sound of croup. The cough is caused by inflammation around the vocal chords, windpipe, and bronchial tubes in the upper airway, according to the Mayo Clinic. The swelling that results from the inflammation narrows the passageway, and when air is forced through in a cough, it often comes out sounding like a seal as a result. Breathing in can also have a whistling sound (called stridor), for the same reason.
When To See A Doctor
If symptoms last longer than three to five days, your child may be prescribed a steroid to reduce inflammation, which can start to work within hours. If hospitalization is required for croup, a temporary breathing tube might be necessary, but this is rare. Remember that over-the-counter cough and cold medications aren’t recommended for children younger than six. Croup is caused by a virus, not bacteria, so it doesn’t require antibiotics.
How To Care For Croup At Home
One of the best things you can do is help your child stay calm, the Mayo Clinic advises, because crying and agitation can aggravate the symptoms of croup. Engage in your child’s favourite low-key activities, like cuddling or reading stories together, and try to keep your child sitting upright as much as possible — it can make breathing easier. Encourage your child to rest and consume lots of fluids, and acetaminophen or ibuprofen (if older than six months) can help with a fever. It’s not supported by research but some parents report relief through the use of a humidifier or sitting in a steamy bathroom.
How To Prevent A Croup
Like colds and the flu, croup is most common during winter and early spring. Croup can be prevented by preventing parainfluenza viruses — and the best way to do this is by washing your hands frequently. Keep your child away from those who are sick as much as you can, and encourage your child to cough or sneeze into his elbow. Also, keep your child vaccinated, including by getting the flu shot each season.