The severity of Croup is variable. Many cases of Croup resolve on their own, but fairly often, Croup is severe enough to warrant a visit to urgent care. In a few cases, serious breathing problems can occur and emergency room care is needed.
Croup is caused by a viral infection, usually a parainfluenza virus. The virus infects the upper airway and causes the area around the vocal cords, windpipe, and bronchial tubes to swell. When your kiddo coughs, it forces air through the swollen vocal cords, creating Croup’s distinctive “barking” cough.
Most kids who get Croup are between 6 months to 3 years old. They have tiny airways, so Croup’s distinctive swelling affects them more than in older kids and adults.
The viruses that cause Croup are contagious and can spread easily through coughing or sneezing, or boogers. In adults, the viruses usually cause cold-like symptoms. Young kiddos in your household can be at risk of Croup. Kiddos are contagious for three days after symptoms begin or until the fever is gone.
Croup usually starts as a cold. If there is enough inflammation, kids develop Croup. Croup symptoms usually get worse at night and tend to last for 3-5 days.
Loud “barking” cough. It sounds a bit like a seal’s bark.
Hoarse or raspy voice
Croup symptoms affect kiddos' breathing, so it’s important to keep an eye on them to see if things are getting worse. Seek medical care if you notice any of these symptoms.
Noisy, or squeaky sounds when inhaling or exhaling
Drooling, or having trouble swallowing
Agitated and whiny, or tired and listless
Breathing at a faster rate than usual, which may seem like panting
Struggling to breathe
Blue or grayish skin around the nose, mouth, or fingernails
Since Croup is caused by viral infections, use the same methods that you use to protect from cold and flu; wash hands, stay away from sick people, and teach your kiddo to sneeze into their elbow—we like to tell them it’s a “sneeze pocket.”
Most younger children will need to go to the doctor with Croup, so it’s a good idea to check in with your primary care provider if you suspect Croup so that they can help you monitor your kiddo’s symptoms.
Usually Croup lasts 3-5 days. If it’s lasting longer, it’s important to see a healthcare provider.
Dr. Corey Fish attended the University of Washington School of Medicine before traveling to Austin, Texas for his pediatric residency at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas. Now a practicing pediatrician with over 10 years of experience Dr. Fish is passionate about delivering high-quality urgent and after-hours care for children. When he’s not working, you’ll find him cycling with his wife, backcountry skiing, and playing guitar.