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Helping a Child With Croup

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

With all of the illness going around that seems to be flu and RSV I was surprised to see a toddler today with symptoms more suggestive of viral croup. Croup is another one of those pesky viruses. Most children will experience croup at least once in their toddler years. Croup causes that “seal like” barking cough, and is very alarming when it awakens both you and your child in the middle of the night.

Croup causes swelling of the upper airway, which causes the voice to be hoarse and the airway to swell (not the lungs) and makes your child have that pronounced seal like cough. Children often seem perfectly well when they go to bed and then awaken coughing. The best treatment is to grab a book and your child and make a beeline to the bathroom and turn the shower on hot to fill the room with steam. Sit in the steam and read a book to calm your child down and help quiet the cough. If the steam treatment does not seem to be helping (and you are now out of hot water) try taking your child outside into the cool night air. Both the humidity from the steamy shower and the change in temperature from hot to cold will help reduce the airway swelling and calm your child’s cough.

Make sure that you look at your child’s chest to how they are breathing. Despite the loud sound, they should look fairly comfortable and should not show signs of respiratory distress or stridor (a distinct sound made when you child breathes in). If they are having any respiratory distress, call the doctor as they may need to be seen and are sometimes given steroids to help with the upper airway swelling. Because this is a viral infection antibiotics won’t help.

Most children have the croupy cough for a night or two and then improve and will then have a little cold.

When older children and adults get this virus they are usually only hoarse and develop a cold.

That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

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