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Mommy Medicine: Treating a child with croup

Mommy Medicine: Treating a child with croup

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SALT LAKE CITY — It's the time of year when common childhood illnesses rear their ugly heads, and the resurgence of one such illness has been going on for a few months now. Here's what you need to know about croup and how to treat it if your child catches it.

What is croup?

Croup is a condition that causes an inflammation of the upper airways — the voice box and windpipe. It often leads to a barking cough, especially when a child cries. Many children get a case of the croup at some time in their life.

While barking, tight cough that comes with the croup can sound scary, most cases are mild. Rarely, though, croup can be severe and even life-threatening. According to an article on, some children are more prone to developing croup when they get a viral upper respiratory infection.

Signs and symptoms

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A case of croup may begin with cold symptoms, like a stuffy or runny nose and a fever. As the upper airway gets more swollen, the child becomes hoarse and develops a harsh, barking cough. I like how describes this loud cough: similar to the barking of a seal.

"If the upper airway becomes increasingly swollen, it becomes even more difficult for a child to breathe, and you may hear a high-pitched or squeaking noise when a child inhales," the report states.

Symptoms of tend to be worse at night and when children are upset or crying. The illness often lasts five to six days; a case that lasts longer than a week or recurs frequently should be discussed with your doctor to determine the cause. In some cases it could be asthma related.


Most cases of croup can be safely managed at home, but call your health care provider if you feel you need more guidance, even in the middle of the night.

The New York Times' Health Guide on croup suggests the following treatments:

  1. Cool or moist air. Bundling your child up and taking them out in the cold air for 15 to 20 minutes really helps.I have personally seen several cases where a parent has brought a child to the doctor, but by the time they arrived their child was doing much better. That is related to the child being outside and breathing in the cold air, which reduces the swelling and calms the croup. If you have a cool air vaporizer, set it up in the child's bedroom and use it for the next few nights.
  2. Over-the-counter medication. Tylenol/acetaminophen can make the child more comfortable and lower a fever, lessening his or her breathing needs. Avoid cough medicines unless you discuss them with your doctor first.
  3. Hospitalization. Serious cases of croup can require hospitalization. If your child has increasing or persistent breathing difficulty, fatigue, bluish coloration of the skin, or dehydration, seek medical help immediately. A doctor can provide medications, such as steroids, to reduce airway swelling and help your child breathe better.

Please take croup seriously. This condition can decline very fast and your child could be in danger before you can get help.

The best treatment for croup is prevention. Remind yourself about the basics dress your children appropriately when going out, make sure your children get plenty of rest and exercise, keep your child's diet balanced and full of Vitamin C and Vitamin D. Also, make sure there is moist air constantly in your home during the dry winter months if possible.

Suzanne Carlile, "Nurse Suzy," has been a nurse since 1982. Her main focus is critical care and nursing education. She holds a master's degree in nursing, is a Certified Emergency Nurse, and a member of NNSDO Intermountain West Chapter.

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