With the first snowstorm of the year behind us it’s certainly starting to feel like winter. We hope our families have had a chance to enjoy the snow; whether that be sledding, building a snowman, or simply watching the snow fall while sipping some hot chocolate. Unfortunately with wintertime comes the dreaded respiratory illness season. The triage team at South Lake Pediatrics frequently talks about croup. Whether parents are wondering about their child’s symptoms or triage is placing a follow up call on a child who was seen in the urgent care or emergency room, croup is a common condition. We hope this information on croup can be a helpful resource for our families.
What is croup?
Kids with croup have a virus that makes the airway below their vocal cords swell. When a cough forces air through this narrowed passageway, the swollen vocal cords produce the telltale “barking” cough (often compared to the sound of a seal’s bark). Your child might also have a raspy voice. When the airway becomes quite swollen you may hear a sound called “stridor”. This sounds like the breathing you hear Darth Vader make in Star Wars. Sometimes you hear it when your child gets agitated. But more concerning is if you hear your child making this sound when they are calm. Croup typically occurs in children under age 5.
How does my child get croup?
Croup is usually caused by a viral infection, most often a parainfluenza virus. Your child may contract a virus by breathing infected respiratory droplets coughed or sneezed into the air. Virus particles in these droplets may also survive on toys and other surfaces. If your child touches a contaminated surface and then touches his or her eyes, nose or mouth an infection may follow.
How is croup diagnosed?
Clinicians listen for the telltale cough and stridor. They also ask if a child has had a history of croup, other upper airway problems, or if they have had any recent illnesses that caused a fever, runny nose or congestion.
How is croup treated?
Most cases of croup are mild and can be treated at home. Try to keep your child calm, as crying can make their breathing more labored. Breathing in moist air can help kids feel better. To help your child breathe in moist air we recommend a cool-mist humidifier or running a hot shower to create a steam-filled bathroom where you can sit with your child for 10 minutes. In cooler weather, taking your child outside for a few minutes to breathe in the cool air may ease symptoms. While there are no medications to make the virus go away, more severe symptoms can be treated in the clinic with steroids and breathing treatments (although beware; these are not asthma treatments and asthma medications do not help croup).
How long should I expect croup to last, and when should I notice improvement?
Runny nose, sore throat, mild cough and fever often occur several days before the cough starts. The illness typically lasts 3-4 days, but the cough may last longer.
When should I call the clinic?
Please call us if your child’s cough is persistently “barky” sounding, breathing sounds harsh or you hear stridor, or it seems like your child is working harder and having trouble breathing. The South Lake Pediatrics triage team can help you determine if this is something that can be monitored at home, if the child should be seen in the clinic, or if they need more emergent evaluation. Please call us if there are any other questions or concerns.