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Croup is an infection caused by a virus. It affects young children, usually less than 3 years of age. The virus makes the upper airway (the windpipe and the voice box) swell. This swelling makes it hard to breathe. Croup causes a hoarse voice and a cough that sounds like barking. The viruses that cause croup can be passed when someone coughs or sneezes.

A croupy cough most often occurs during the night, usually in the fall or winter. The child will awaken gasping for breath and coughing. The child may also have a hoarse voice, mild fever, and trouble breathing, especially when inhaling. A raspy noise, called stridor, may be heard when the child breathes in. Both breathing and hoarseness may get better during the day.

Croup may require evaluation and treatment by a provider, especially if your child has any trouble breathing.

Ways to care for a child with croup at home include:

  • When the cough gets severe, stay calm.
  • Hold and comfort the child and keep the child in an upright position.
  • Run hot water in the shower to steam up the bathroom. Take the child into the bathroom and close the door. The warm humidified air should ease the breathing within 10 minutes. You can do this each time your child wakes up coughing during the night.
  • If the steamy bathroom session does not work, and the outside temperature is cool, take the child outdoors for a few minutes. Breathing in cold, moist night air may loosen up the air passages. The child may be able to breathe more easily. You could also open a freezer door and let the child breathe the cool air for a few minutes.
  • A cool mist humidifier or vaporizer in the child's room may help ease his breathing. Clean the vaporizer according to the instructions.
  • Keep your child away from smoke that might make the condition worse.
  • Use nonprescription pain relievers, such as acetaminophen, to help relieve sore throat pain and fever. Check with your healthcare provider before you give medicine that contains aspirin or salicylates to a child or teen because of the risk for a serious illness called Reye's syndrome.
  • Do not give cough medicines without specific instructions to do so from your child's healthcare provider.
  • Offer your child fluids. Warm fluids may be soothing, or your child may want ice pops.

Croup usually lasts for 5 to 6 days, with 2 or 3 bad nights. Croup is contagious, so it's best to keep the sick child away from other children.

Disclaimer: This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information provided is intended to be informative and educational and is not a replacement for professional medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.

HIA File pedi3714.htm Release 13/2010

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