Childhood Respiratory Diseases Croup

Croup is a respiratory condition characterized by the swelling of the tissues on and around the vocal cords. Because children’s airways are smaller and more susceptible to infections and climate changes, those under five years old are most likely to develop this condition.

Causes of Croup

In about 75 percent of cases, croup results from an infection of the parainfluenza virus. In the remaining patients, croup can arise from:

  • acid reflux
  • adenoviruses
  • allergies
  • bacterial infections
  • influenza
  • inhaled irritants
  • measles
  • respiratory syncytial virus.

Coughing and Croup Symptoms

Because many people mistake croup for laryngitis, knowing the symptoms of croup is important to receiving the proper diagnosis and treatment. Some of the symptoms for children who have croup include:

  • coughing
  • fever
  • hacking cough that sounds like a seal barking
  • hoarseness
  • stridor, a high-pitched crowing or squeaking noise made when breathing.

The incubation period for croup depends on the virus causing it. The incubation for parainfluenza, the most common cause of croup, is about three to five days.

Treatment for Croup

Because the majority of croup cases are caused by viruses, treatment options revolve around treating the symptoms of the condition, namely stridor, the harsh grating or creaking sounds that occurs when breathing. For example, having your child breathe through a warm, wet washcloth allows them to inhale moist air, which facilitates breathing.

Most children with mild croup can be treated at home. Here are some helpful home treatments for mild cases of croup and child coughing:

  • breathing in cool air (In cold climates, just going outside will help clear the lungs and aid in breathing.)
  • drinking lots of fluids
  • resting
  • sitting in an upright position
  • staying hydrated
  • taking acetaminophen
  • using a cool-mist humidifier to aid breathing.

If you don’t own a mist humidifier, you can create a makeshift mist room in your home by closing your bathroom door and running hot water in the shower. Your child should sit in the room for about 10 minutes.

Although most cases of croup are cured within five or six days of treatment, severe cases may require hospitalization. If you notice any of the following symptoms, call your child’s doctor immediately:

  • breathing doesn’t improve after mist treatment
  • constant discomfort
  • cyanosis (bluish or darkened coloring of the skin or lips)
  • difficulty swallowing
  • difficulty breathing
  • drooling
  • high fever
  • symptoms getting worse
  • uncharacteristic crankiness.

Croup has few complications. In fact, as long as it doesn’t cause the infant to suffer from severe breathing difficulties, croup is unlikely to be life threatening. If, however, croup is left untreated, it can lead to serious ear infections and possibly pneumonia.

Don’t Panic

Croup is scary for children because it may cause breathing difficulties. As a result, it’s important that parent stay calm when dealing with a child suffering from croup. Remaining collected and administering the proper treatment will reassure your child that everything will be all right.

Preventing Croup

Avoiding infection by a parainfluenza virus is the key to preventing your child from developing croup. Consequently, frequent hand washing is the best way for your child to avoid croup. Similarly, ask your child to avoid touching his nose or eyes, and try to avoid people who are coughing or whom you suspect may have a respiratory infection.

Vaccination may also protect your child from croup. The diphtheria, Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) and measles vaccines can provide some protection from the more dangerous forms of croup.


Mayo Clinic (updated October 4, 2006). Croup. Retrieved September 17, 2007 from the Mayo Clinic Web site: