Croup- Barky Cough

Few things are more scary than waking up to a child crying with a strange, barky cough!  

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Croup is a viral illness that infects the soft tissue of the neck around the voice box and breathing tube, causing swelling that gives a deep barking sound when a child coughs.  Sometimes the swelling is so severe that each breath makes that deep vibrating, barking sound, called stridor. The sound is more noticeable when the child is crying or breathing in.  The virus that causes croup is one of the cold viruses so kids could also have a runny or stuffy nose and/or fever.  Children over the age of 5 don’t typically get croup.  As with a lot of childhood respiratory illnesses, the symptoms are usually worse at night. The body has everything it needs to fight off the infection so antibiotics are not helpful. 

Here are some things you can do right away at home to help your child feel better:

  • Have your child breathe in moist cool air. You should see improvement in 20 minutes.
    • Open the freezer door and let your child breathe the cool air from the freezer.
    • If you live somewhere that has cool air in the evenings, go outside and let your child breathe in the cool air or go for a drive with the windows rolled down. 
    • Have your child breathe in steam from boiled water or a hot shower with the door closed in a small bathroom.
  • Try to stay calm and talk gently to your child, sing a song, or read a book while you hold your child as she breathes in the moist air. Crying and a child’s anxiety can make the symptoms worse.
  • Keep your child hydrated. Frequent sips of water or juice can help your child feel better.

Take your child to the clinic or hospital: 

  • If your child is having trouble breathing. Lift up your child’s shirt. If the skin is sucking in between the ribs with each breath you should go to the clinic. Have him breathe the freezer air while you are getting ready to go.
  • If your child has asthma and is not improving with inhalers.
  • If your child is drooling.
  • If the stridor (barking sound with each breath) doesn’t go away after breathing in the cold air.
  • If your child has croup symptoms, but has not been immunized. Vaccines protect from a more serious illnesses, such as pertussis. If your child has not had vaccines this illness could be much more of a medical emergency, requiring immediate care.

While croup is a virus that does not need an antibiotic, more severe cases may need steroids or hospitalization to monitor breathing and perhaps oxygen. 

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