Croup is the result of an inflammation of the upper airways, including the larynx, or voice box, the windpipe and throat. Often caused by a virus, croup can cause hoarseness in the voice and a barking cough. This condition occurs most often in infants and children under the age of five because their airways are small. In the United States, croup is most common in the fall and winter months between October and March. Although croup is not a serious condition, it can be troubling for both parent and child.
Causes of Croup
Croup is most often caused by the parainfluenza virus. A child can be exposed to parainfluenza virus particles in the air, or on toys or other surfaces. The upper respiratory airways may become inflamed from cold like symptoms that also may be caused by:
- Bacterial infections
- Other viral infections
- Irritants within the airway
Symptoms of Croup
Croup may cause cold like symptoms that may include runny nose, congestion or fever. As the upper airways become swollen and inflamed, a hoarseness in the voice may develop as well as distinctive barking cough. The cough is usually more prevalent during the night and may also be accompanied by a condition known as stridor, which is a high pitched or squeaking noise made during breathing. The greatest risk of croup is intense swelling of the airways making it very difficult for the child to breathe.
Treatment of Croup
Croup usually goes away on its own, but symptoms may be treated at home with the following methods:
- Acetaminophen for fever
- Taking the child into a steamy bathroom or out into the cold, moist, night air
- Using a cool air vaporizer during the night
For cases of croup that do not subside with home treatment, a doctor may prescribe steroids to reduce inflammation and alleviate the symptoms of croup. A child with severe croup that causes difficulty breathing, fatigue and bluish coloration of the skin should be seen immediately by a doctor or taken to a hospital for evaluation and immediate care.