By: Stephanie Shabangu, Penfield Children’s Center
Reviewed by: Michelle Benz, RN, Penfield Children’s Center

Typically occurring in young children, croup most often develops from a virus and causes a child’s airways to swell. A telltale sign of croup is usually a “barking cough” and a raspy voice.  While most cases of croup are not cause for concern, some children, especially those with a history of asthma or prematurity, can experience complications. If you notice your child is having trouble breathing, is bluish around the mouth, is having difficulty swallowing, has excessive drooling or is overly tired, seek medical attention immediately.

Early symptoms:

Croup often starts as a small cold and symptoms include a runny nose and fever. When the child’s upper airways become irritated, the barking cough and hoarse voice can develop. These symptoms often become worse during the night and can last 3 to 5 days.

Is it easy to catch croup?

Because croup is often caused by a virus, it is easy for young children to become infected, especially those in constant close settings such as schools, camps or daycares. According to the Mayo Clinic, “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.” So, if your child plays with a toy that an infected child just touched and then your child touches his mouth or eyes, he could get the virus as well.


Most of the time, croup can be treated at home. If your child has a fever, check with his pediatrician to figure out the correct dosage of acetaminophen or ibuprofen. It can also be useful to place a humidifier in his bedroom or turn on the shower and sit with him in a steam-filled bathroom for about 10 minutes as this can help calm your child’s severe cough.

When a child is sick, it’s common for him to become dehydrated. Make sure to offer liquids throughout the day and encourage him to rest. Relaxing with his favorite books or working on a simple art project can all be good activities for calming busy kids and helping them relax.

If you feel your child is getting worse and/or having trouble breathing, he might need a breathing treatment from the hospital or clinic such as corticoid-steroid medicine, nebulized epinephrine or oxygen. Seek medical help immediately if your child is making a whistling sound when breathing, is struggling to catch his breath or cannot talk because of a breathing issue.

How do I prevent my child from getting croup?

While it is not possible to prevent your child from getting viruses entirely, frequent handwashing and following a regular vaccination schedule to ward off other types of upper respiratory infections can greatly reduce your child’s chance of catching a virus and developing croup.

Has your child had croup? What home treatment worked best for him/her?


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