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What to Know About Croup In Children

Posted on Dec 23, 2019

What is croup? What should I do when my kids get it?

Croup is a swelling of the airway just below the vocal cords. The swelling causes cough, noisy breathing and sometimes respiratory distress. Croup is usually caused by a viral infection especially during the fall and winter months. On this week’s On Call for All Kids, Rachel Dawkins, M.D., tells parents what they need to know about croup.

What ages are most at risk?

Children are most likely to get croup between 3 months and 3 years of age. As kids get older, they may get the virus that causes croup, but because their windpipe is larger, the swelling doesn’t cause such a problem with breathing.

What are the signs of croup?

Just like many viruses, croup usually starts out with runny nose and cough. Some children may have fever. Usually this is a low-grade fever around 101 degrees but might get as high as 104. Children usually start out with a barking cough. Kids can become hoarse or have stridor, which is a high-pitched, musical or whistling sound when the child breaths in.

What is the treatment for croup?

Croup always seems to be worse in the middle of the night. Keeping your child calm may help him/her breathe easier. The old wives’ tale is to expose the child to “cool night air” to improve breathing. While there are no scientific studies that show this helps, it doesn’t hurt. In Florida, it’s rare that we have “cool night air” so you can try opening your freezer and letting the child stand in front of the cool air. Otherwise, lots of fluids and rest are the best treatment, just like you would for any other cold.

Occasionally, physicians will prescribe steroids to help with the intensity of the swelling of the throat and improve symptoms. Antibiotics are not needed for croup.

When should a parent call the doctor or even 911?

If you are concerned that your child’s croup isn’t improving or, even worse, that your child is struggling to breathe or swallow, then make sure to contact your child’s pediatrician even in the middle of the night, go to the pediatric Emergency Center or call 911.

On Call for All Kids is a weekly series featuring Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital medical experts. Visit each Monday for the latest report.

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