Croup Cough

What seemed like a regular cold in your child has suddenly gotten worse. His sniffles and sneezes have added a new sound � a raspy, barky cough. Often compared to the sound a seal makes, croup cough can cause parents a lot of worry. The good news is that the croup is a common childhood ailment that clears up soon enough. The bad news, unfortunately, means that some parents may find themselves in an emergency room with their little one.

What is Croup
Although croup in children can appear suddenly, more often than not, it emerges gradually, first as a common cold which then develops into the croup. The main cause of croup is a viral infection that affects the voice box. The barky cough that characterizes the croup is the result of your child�s vocal cords swelling.

Children who repeatedly suffer from the croup are considered to have spasmodic croup. This is an allergy induced croup cough brought on by a child�s seasonal allergies. While the croup mostly affects children between the ages of six months and three years, spasmodic croup can affect children up to the age of six.

Croup usually lasts for anywhere between three and six days. Although the severity of the cough can fluctuate during the course of the illness, croup is at its worst during the first few days. It often peaks around the second or third day before subsiding into a bad cold.

A question many parents wonder is whether croup is contagious. Although it is, it is no more contagious than the common cold. But it is still a good idea to take precautions. Washing your hands or your toddler�s hands frequently can help prevent the spreading of germs.

Signs of Croup
Many parents who have dealt with croup in toddlers have found that the symptoms tend to be at their worst during the night. Unfortunately, children under the age of three are more likely to have the most severe croup symptoms. The most common symptoms of croup cough include:


  • A barky cough
  • A hoarse voice (caused by the swelling of the vocal cords)
  • A mild fever, up to 104°

Because the vocal cords are the narrowest part of the air passageway, any swelling in this area is enough to hinder your child�s breathing. This narrowing can cause your child�s intake of air to sound harsh, raspy or even as though they are gasping. This is known as stridor and is one of the most serious symptoms of croup.

Croup and Treatment
There are various things you can do at home to help relieve your child�s symptoms. One of the main home remedies is sitting in a steamy bathroom for 15 to 20 minutes. The moisture can help to reduce the swelling of your child�s vocal cords. Alternatively, you can use a cool mist humidifier by your child�s bedside or go for a 10 to 20 minute walk in the cool night air to reduce the swelling. However, these treatments are not permanent, so you may have to steam up the bathroom a few times during the night.

Unless your doctor advises it, you should never give your child antihistamines or decongestants for the croup. These drugs can make the condition worse by drying out the vocal cords even more. Additionally, antibiotics and cough medicine are of little help in this situation, so avoid administering these.

Your child�s doctor may, however, use oral steroids to help reduce the swelling. The steroids are only taken for a few days, but they work well and efficiently to get your child breathing properly again.

When It Is An Emergency
It is not always easy to tell when your child�s croup cough and her trouble breathing are normal and when they require more immediate attention. As a general rule of thumb, if your toddler seems to have a generally pleasant disposition, is still interested in playing and is not really bothered by her cough, then the home remedies should be sufficient to ease any discomfort she may have.

However, if she can�t sleep or doesn�t want to lie down because she has troubles breathing; is not interested in playing or interacting with others; or her stridor does not go away even when she is calm, you may want to keep a close eye on her. If her symptoms get worse, you may need to take a trip to your local emergency room.

If your child experiences any of these symptoms, go to the nearest emergency room immediately:


  • None of the home treatments work to ease the symptoms
  • Breathing becomes a struggle
  • Child can�t speak or cry due to a lack of breath
  • Child�s lips or skin are turning blue

Although spasmodic croup is usually eased by home remedies, emergency treatment for severe spasmodic croup may be necessary. Always keep a close eye on your child�s croup symptoms to make sure they don�t worsen.

Get more toddler health advice from moms who know by visiting our baby forum.