What Is Croup?
Croup is a common respiratory illness in which the vocal cords (larynx) and the area below them in the windpipe (trachea) are inflamed. Croup is usually caused by a virus, such as the parainfluenza virus, adenovirus, or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Croup is associated with a harsh, barking cough and noisy breathing. Croup occurs most often in late winter, particularly in children between the ages of 3 months and 5 years. Spasmodic croup is a croup-like cough without any signs of infection present, usually the result of an allergic reaction in the windpipe or trachea.
Symptoms and Signs of Croup
Croup usually begins as a common cold with a stuff or runny nose and fever. After a few days, the child's voice will seem hoarse and the child will develop a harsh cough, described as sounding like a seal's bark. The child may also have problems drawing air into the lungs because of inflammation in the airway. The whistling noise that results when breathing in is called stridor. The cough and difficulty breathing occur most often in the evening after the child has gone to bed, or in the middle of the night. In cases of spasmodic croup, the child may not have cold symptoms before the coughing begins, but the cough and breathing symptoms are the same as in children with infectious croup.
Children who are born prematurely or children with known asthma may develop more severe symptoms of croup. In general, however, croup goes away within a few days, though symptoms can occasionally become severe. Sometimes a child who is having difficulty breathing may have rapid, labored breathing or wheezing combined with a barking cough. The child's skin color may be pale and blue around the mouth due to lack of oxygen. If you notice this serious symptom, call 911 or a doctor immediately as your child may need hospitalization.
How to Prevent Croup
It is difficult to prevent your child from developing croup, as a number of common cold viruses can cause the condition. Frequent hand washing and avoiding close contact with people who are sick may reduce the risk of infection.
Treatment for Croup
Antibiotics are not helpful since croup is usually caused by a virus, not by bacteria. If your child has croup for the first time, contact a doctor immediately if there are signs of difficulty breathing, dehydration, high fever, drooling, and an inability to swallow saliva. This may be a sign of acute epiglottitis, a rare but potentially life-threatening infection of the epiglottis.
If your child has had croup before and you recognize the symptoms, try these measures:
- Give your child plenty of liquids to drink.
- Prop your child up in bed with pillows and keep his upper body raised so he will breathe more easily.
- Some children feel better when they breathe in cool and damp air. Take your child over to an open window or open the freezer door.
- Other children improve after breathing warm, steamy air. Take the child into the bathroom after filling it with hot shower steam. Sit in the room for about 10 minutes. Have your child inhale the humid air directly or through a damp towel. You can also use damp towels to increase the humidity in your child's room
Sleep near enough to your child so you can follow the course of the illness. The symptoms may improve during the day, but worsen again for two or three nights. Always try to stay calm: It is important to comfort your child. If you're anxious, your child will quickly sense this and become anxious and afraid herself. This may make her breathing worse.
Contact a doctor immediately if your child does not start breathing more easily with the treatments. Your child may need treatment in a hospital to receive oxygen, medication to open the airway, and intravenous fluids.
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