What is Croup?

Croup is a condition caused by a viral infection. The virus leads to swelling of the larynx (voicebox) and trachea (windpipe) resulting in narrowing of the airway which can make breathing difficult.

Croup most commonly occurs in children who are 6 months olds to five years of age, at which point their airways increase in size and they usually stop getting it. However, in saying that, it is possible for older children to experience croup. 

Croup varies in severity from mild to severe, mild croup can generally be managed at home whereas severe croup will always require treatment in hospital.

While some children will get croup many times, others may never experience it, it truly is luck of the draw (0/10 would not recommend entering this draw).

Is croup contagious?

Great question!

Croup itself is caused by a virus but is not a virus in itself, this means that your child can’t catch croup from another child.

However children may catch the original virus that has caused the croup via contact with droplets from coughing and sneezing.

Pro tip: If your child has caught a virus that caused another child to have croup this does not necessarily mean your child will also develop croup. 

What are the signs and symptoms of croup?

Croup often comes on suddenly in the night. Before croup occurs your child will normally have had signs of a virus such as a runny nose, cough, sneezing, general lethargy etc. Tell tale signs of croup include:

  • A harsh barking cough that we in the medical field refer to as a ‘seal bark cough’ i can confirm this is not as cute as it sounds- you can listen to a croup cough here!
  • Your child may have a hoarse sounding voice when talking due to inflamed vocal cords
  • Your child may develop a stridor which is a loud high pitched sound made when breathing in, listen to a stridor here!
  • In severe cases your child may struggle to breath and show signs of respiratory distress 

Why is croup worse at night?

It is thought that croup is worse at night time because of the body’s natural reduction in steroid production overnight.

Steroids are responsible for reducing inflammation and swelling in the body, so when steroid levels are low- swelling in the airway can be worse.

For this reason it’s no surprise that children who have moderate to severe croup will often be prescribed oral steroids (prednisolone or dexamethasone) to help reduce airway swelling.

How long does croup typically last?

Croup usually lasts 3 to 4 days with night 2 or 3 usually being the worst. A seal bark cough can sometimes lingering for up to 3 weeks.

When should I take my child to see the GP?

If your child has an isolated seal bark cough but has no signs of a stridor and no signs of breathing difficulty / respiratory distress you could consider taking them to see a GP.

When managing a croup at home you should focus on keeping your child calm and rested, consider giving them pain relief, and try to keep them well hydrated.

Pro tip: Croup can worsen in severity really quickly so make sure you monitor your child closely and don’t hesitate to take them to ED or call an ambulance if symptoms become worse or you are concerned.

What sign’s or symptoms should prompt me to take my child to ED or call 000 for an ambulance?

  • Any sign of respiratory distress such as breathing that looks difficult, recessions (sucking in between the ribs, under the sternum and between the collarbones), breathing that is fast, head bobbing or nasal flaring
  • Your child has a stridor while resting 
  • Your child’s skin, lips, mucous membranes or fingernails beds are becoming blue
  • Your child is pale, floppy or drowsy and hard to wake
  • They are drooling excessively or unable to swallow
  • Your child is very distressed or symptoms are getting worse
  • Your instinct is telling you something is seriously wrong 

Is there anything I can do while I wait for the ambulance to arrive?

There sure is!

1). If possible, turn on the front light, unlock the front door and put away your pets- this way the paramedics can get straight into your house and begin treatment as quickly as possible. They may give your child oral steroids or in more severe cases of croup nebulised adrenaline. 

2).  Allow your child to put themselves into a position of comfort, when conscious and alert, kids will naturally put themselves into a position that is best to optimise their breathing.

3).Try to keep yourself and your child as calm as possible, we know, we know, easy to say and ohhh so hard to do! 

This could involve providing cuddles, putting on your child’s favourite cartoon, singing to them or some other form of distraction. The more upset they become the worse their breathing will be.

What about steam therapy?

For many years doctors advised parents to use mist, steam, or vaporiser therapy for children when they had croup (eg: sitting in a bathroom with a hot shower running in the background). However research in this area has proven that steam therapy does not reduce croup symptoms.

Did you learn something today? We sure hope so. 

Want to feel confident managing croup and other general illnesses this winter? We can train you up quick-smart. Sign up for a Cradle and Kin first aid course today.

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