If it’s wintertime and you have a child who is 5 years old or younger who has a barking type of cough, she might have a virus called croup. Children older than 5 years can also get croup, and they can get croup in other seasons besides winter, but it’s most common in young children and during the winter months. Most times, croup is mild enough that you can treat it at home, but recognize the signs of a more serious condition that requires a doctor’s attention.
Croup may start like a cold, with a runny or stuffy nose. It progresses to a barking, hacking cough and hoarseness, and children sometimes run a fever. Your child’s airways become swollen with croup. The cough tends to get worse at night or if your child starts to cry.
Give your child plenty of liquids when he has croup. He also must rest. Keep him in an upright position to make breathing easier. If your child is younger than 2 years old, you should not give him any cough medicine, but you can give him child acetaminophen or ibuprofen if he is running a fever or if he complains that his chest hurts. Create a humid environment for your child by putting a humidifier in your child’s room, having your child breathe through a warm, wet washcloth that you put over his mouth and nose, or sit with your child in a steamy bathroom. Run a hot shower until the room is steamy and sit in there for 10 minutes. Let your child go outside for a few minutes during cool weather because cool air may reduce swelling in your child’s trachea and larynx.
When to Call Doctor
If your child is having difficulty breathing or if you hear a high-pitched noise when your child breathes, call your doctor. Other signs that require a doctor’s attention are difficulty swallowing, blue around the lips, nose and fingernails and no improvement in breathing after you tried creating the humid environment. Also call your doctor if your child is constantly uncomfortable or if your child is getting worse.
Your doctor may treat the condition with prescription medication, with steroids to help reduce the swelling in the airways or by giving a breathing treatment. If that doesn’t work, your child might get a neck X-ray to determine whether she has an object lodged in her throat or an abscess behind her throat.
Most cases of croup last three to seven days. Help your child avoid getting croup by avoiding people with a cold or respiratory infection and by making sure your child washes his hands frequently, especially in colder weather.