Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night to the sound of a seal bark and realized that it is coming from your child’s bedroom? This sudden development of a terrible sounding barky cough in the middle of the night is a common presentation of croup. As a pediatrician, I see croup come in waves usually during the fall and winter. It is a contagious viral illness spread via droplets (like coughing) and from hands to mouth or other mucus membranes (like the nose).
Croup is a viral infection that causes inflammation around the voice box (larynx) and the breathing tube (trachea). Croup often causes a barky cough, runny nose, and fever. The cough is often worse at night. The most common virus that causes croup is called parainfluenza. Croup usually occurs in the fall and winter. Common ages to be affected by croup are from 3-6 months up to 6 years of age.
If your child has mild croup symptoms there are things you can do for him/her at home.
- If the weather is cool, bundle them up and take them out to breath in the cool night air for 10-15 minutes.
- Steam up the bathroom by turning on the shower, close the door to trap the steam, and take your child in and sit in the bathroom for 15-20 min.
- Place a cool mist humidifier in your child’s room.
Your pediatrician may use a medication (a steroid called decadron) to help decrease the swelling in the airway. This medication will make it easier for your child to breath and should help decrease the barky cough. Because croup is caused by a virus the use of antibiotics are not helpful. Over the counter cough medicine usually does not help and children under 6 years of age should not use these medications.
Closely monitor your child’s breathing and take them to the nearest emergency room if:
- Child seems to be struggling to get a breath.
- Child can’t speak because of a lack of breath.
- Child gets excessively sleepy because of coughing too much.
- Child turns blue when he/she coughs.
Croup usually lasts for 10-14 days like a typical virus. The fever can last 3-4 days but the runny nose and cough can last for the whole 10-14 days. In some children croup can also lead to an ear infection because some of the mucous that may end up in the middle ear and lead to an infection. If the fever lasts longer than 3-4 days or if your child complains of ear pain, be sure to visit your pediatrician.
Some info from the American Academy of Pediatrics website at www.healthychildren.org.