Croup is an illness caused by some of the same viruses that cause the "common cold". In the case of the common cold, the nose and throat are infected and swollen. In the case of croup, there is a swelling in the major airway leading to the lungs. Because of this swollen airway, your child will have to breathe through a more narrow passage. You will notice that when he/she breathes, he/she makes a hoarse rasping sound. Your child will also have a strange cough that sounds like a barking seal.

What can I do for my child while he/she has croup?

First, because croup is caused by a virus, there is no safe and effective medicines to "cure" it. However, there are several things you can do to make your child more comfortable.

To help with his/her fever you should give him/her Tylenol every four hours or as long as the fever lasts. You should also give your child plenty of clear fluids - koolaid, flat soda, jello water, Gatorade.

Some children with croup and wheezing benefit from albuterol syrup (Ventolin or Proventil). Over the past few years, data has emerged from studies of croup showing a benefit from corticosteroids (prednisone). Children who were given prednisone (or prednisolone) in these studies had less serious breathing problems than those given placebo. Prednisone is quite safe when used for short periods of time. It may cause some nausea and "hyper" activity. I generally give prednisone to any child who has significant stridor (the squeaking on breathing in that suggests significant narrowing of the larynx).

When should I call my doctor?

Most children with croup can be cared for at home, however, if you note any of the following signs, call me:

To help his/her breathing you can do the following:

  1. Keep your child calm. When he/she is excited or crying, his/her breathing will be worse.
  2. Place a cold air vaporizer by the child's bed or playing area. (Hot steam vaporizers are not safe. They may burn)
  3. When your child's breathing is very noisy, take him into a bathroom that has been heavily steamed with a hot shower. (IMPORTANT: Always stay with your child in the bathroom. Be careful to keep him/her away from the hot water).
  4. Take your child out into the cool night air if the steam treatment above doesn't help.