Kelli J. Shidler, M.D.
Croup is caused by a virus that creates inflammation in the upper airways around the vocal cord area. It tends to be most common in children 6 months to 3 years old, but can affect older children as well. It is very contagious. Outbreaks of croup typically occur in the fall and early winter, but can happen any time of the year.
Croup can cause a very strange and unsettling sound when a baby breathes in called stridor. There can also be a severe cough, known as a seal-bark cough, which tends to have similar characteristics as a normal cough but the sound of the cough is very distinct and can be quite alarming.Croup tends to be the worst in the middle of the night or as soon as the baby wakes up from a nap. Oftentimes the baby will be fine during the day.
Croup symptoms generally appear two or three days after the basic cold symptoms start, but can come on all of the sudden without warning, typically in the middle of the night. Croup usually lasts three to seven days.
There are different types of treatments for babies who have croup. Getting cold or hot air into the baby’s airways can make a significant difference. For a cold air treatment, opening the freezer or standing outside in the winter, with the baby bundled up, are simple home treatments to allow cold air to constrict the baby’s vocal cords. Another option is to allow steam into the baby’s airways by going into a bathroom, shutting the door, turning the shower on as hot as possible, and sitting in the steamy bathroom with your baby to allow the hot air to get into your baby’s airways.
Some croup cases are more severe and need medical attention right away. The doctor can prescribe steroids for a baby or a different breathing treatment with epinephrine in the clinic to help treat croup. Again, croup is very common, but with the scary sounds, it can be worrisome for a parent. If the home remedies do not give your baby any relief, call your doctor.
To prevent the spread of croup, wash hands frequently and avoid contact with people who have respiratory infections. Get medical attention immediately if your child has difficulty breathing, stridor, difficulty swallowing, a fatigued appearance, signs of dehydration, or a very sick appearance.