Top of the page
Croup is a common respiratory problem in young children. It tends to occur in the fall and winter. Its main symptom is a harsh, barking cough. Croup causes swelling and narrowing in the voice box, windpipe, and breathing tubes that lead to the lungs. This can make it hard for your child to breathe.
An attack of croup can be scary, but it is rarely serious. Children usually get better in several days with rest and care at home.
Croup usually occurs a few days after the start of a cold and is usually caused by the same viruses that cause the common cold. Croup is contagious. The germs that cause it can be passed from one person to another through coughing and sneezing and through close contact. Regular hand-washing and limiting contact with others can help prevent the spread of croup.
As children grow older and their lungs and windpipes mature, they are less likely to get croup. Getting a flu vaccine each year may help your child fight off some of the viruses that can lead to croup.
Symptoms of croup are caused by narrowed airways. They may include:
Symptoms of croup often improve during the day and get worse at night. Sometimes children have croup attacks that wake them up in the middle of the night for a couple of nights in a row. Unless the illness is severe, a child with croup is usually alert and active. The child's temperature is usually normal or only slightly higher than normal.
The illness usually improves in 2 to 5 days.
Your doctor will probably be able to tell whether your child has croup based on your child's symptoms and a physical examination. The doctor may be able to identify the barking cough of croup over the phone.
The doctor may place a small clip called a pulse oximeter on your child's finger, toe, or earlobe to make sure that enough oxygen is reaching the blood.
Even though your child's coughing and troubled breathing can be frightening, home treatment usually eases the symptoms.
If your child's symptoms don't get better after 30 minutes, call your child's doctor. Because attacks often occur in the middle of the night when your doctor is probably not available, you may have to go to the emergency room.
If your child has severe difficulty breathing, call 911 or other emergency services immediately.
When home treatment isn't enough, medicines such as glucocorticoids or epinephrine may be used to decrease airway swelling. These are usually given in a doctor's office or an emergency room. In rare cases, your child may need to stay in the hospital to get extra oxygen or other treatment.
Adaptation Date: 7/30/2020
Adapted By: Alberta Health Services
Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2020 Healthwise, Incorporated. All rights reserved. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.