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Croup is a common viral illness in children. The virus causes swelling of the throat, including the larynx (around the vocal cords) and the trachea (windpipe, or air passage from the throat to the lungs).
The swelling in the throat can change your child’s voice and cause a harsh, “barky” cough. Children with croup can get stridor – a high-pitched breathing sound made when they take a breath in, which can lead to difficulty breathing.
Croup affects younger children because their airways are smaller. Children between the ages of three months and five years old are most likely to get sick, but older children may have symptoms too. The same virus that causes croup in a young child can give cold symptoms to other family members.
Most children will have a mild runny nose or a low-grade fever. Within 12 to 48 hours, the symptoms can progress to include:
In mild cases of croup, stridor is normally heard when your child is crying or upset. In more severe cases of croup, your child will have stridor even when they are calm or asleep. Stridor and cough are usually worst at night.
Children are unwell for about one week. Croup symptoms are worst during the first 1-2 days that your child is sick. Your child may have other symptoms because of the virus making them sick, including: runny nose, red eyes, or rash.
Most children with croup have mild symptoms and can be successfully treated at home. Here are some things you can try to make your child feel better:
Over the counter medication for fever or pain
Dexamethasone (Steroid syrup)
Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care.
Seek immediate medical attention if:
Know your options
It can be scary when your child is sick. But in most cases, you don’t need to go to the emergency department. If you’re unsure, visit ahs.ca/options to learn about the options so you can get the care you need.
The Alberta Health Services HEAL (Health Education and Learning) program was created by a team of doctors, nurses and other clinical staff who work at the Alberta Children’s Hospital and the Stollery Children’s Hospital, to support families and patients with up-to-date and useful information about common childhood health concerns. Learn more at ahs.ca/heal.
To see this information online and learn more, visit: ahs.ca/heal/page12435.aspx
Barky cough in children (Croup): HEAL
For 24/7 nurse advice and general health information call Health Link at 811.
Current as of: March 1, 2023
Author: Pediatric Emergency Medicine, Alberta Health Services
This material is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified health professional. This material is intended for general information only and is provided on an "as is", "where is" basis. Although reasonable efforts were made to confirm the accuracy of the information, Alberta Health Services does not make any representation or warranty, express, implied or statutory, as to the accuracy, reliability, completeness, applicability or fitness for a particular purpose of such information. Alberta Health Services expressly disclaims all liability for the use of these materials, and for any claims, actions, demands or suits arising from such use.