Does My Child Have Croup? A Parent’s Guide to This Common Childhood Illness

Children's Health

Dec 15, 2017


If you’re a parent you may be familiar with the barking cough that signifies a potential case of croup. It can often begin during an otherwise quiet night and send you into a near panic due to the constricting nature of the illnesses’ distinctive hoarse cough. Thankfully, croup is generally not as severe as the cough may lead you to believe. Croup is actually fairly common among children, with approximately three percent of six-month- to three-year-olds suffering from it annually.

Croup Symptoms

The most obvious sign of croup is a barking cough, but there are other symptoms that may begin manifesting days prior. A runny nose, sore throat, congestion, and a mild fever may all signify the onset of croup, but those symptoms can also describe many other virulent illnesses that commonly affect children.

As with any illness that affects very young children with limited abilities to communicate the symptoms they’re feeling, it can sometimes be hard to narrow down the specific illness with just a handful of visible symptoms. Other common symptoms associated with the onset of croup include:

  • Stridor, a term denoting the high-pitched, raspy sound that accompanies breathing
  • Hoarse throat
  • Pronounced up and down movement of the chest when breathing
  • Rash
  • Red eyes
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • A bluish tinge on fingers, toenails, earlobes, nose or lips

What Exactly Is Croup and What Causes It?

Croup is essentially an infection affecting a person’s larynx and trachea. Croup overwhelmingly affects young children more than any other age group.

Viral croup is the most common variety and features symptoms similar to recurrent croup, which can make distinguishing between the two variants difficult. There is also a rarer bacterial form of croup which is typically more serious and harder to treat.

Approximately 80 percent of croup cases are caused by human parainfluenza viruses (HPIVs), the same class of virus responsible for bronchitis and pneumonia. Specifically, croup is most commonly attributed to HPIV-1 and HPIV-2.
Croup may also manifest in conjunction with or because of other viruses, such as influenza A and B.

Infection begins in the nose and throat and spreads down the throat to the larynx and trachea. The trachea will begin to swell, narrowing the airway through which air enters the lungs. This is why children may instinctively begin breathing more quickly or deeply to compensate for the reduced airflow. Agitation may also manifest as a child struggles to get enough air into their lungs.

The bacterial form of croup is often more dangerous than its viral counterpart and may require different treatment methods.
There are indications that susceptibility to croup is somewhat hereditary, with croup infections being more common in children born into families with a history of croup.


Most cases of croup, approximately 85 percent, are considered mild. The body’s immune system can usually fight it off in approximately a week. Some pediatric physicians will administer a corticosteroid known as dexamethasone to reduce the chance of relapse.

Sitting up can sometimes alleviate symptoms, so you may want to sit your child up while they are recovering. Crying may aggravate the already swollen trachea and exacerbate symptoms, so try to minimize crying if possible. Cough medicines aren’t generally very effective for treating croup, but Children’s Tylenol or Children’s Advil or Motrin may help bring down fevers and reduce chest pain.

You can try a number of home remedies to alleviate stridor symptoms. Breathing cool outdoor air for approximately 10 minutes or a cool mist vapor may help. Breathing warm moist air is also an option, which can be accomplished easily and comfortably by running a hot shower to get a bathroom steamy, then sitting with your child in the steamed up bathroom for approximately 10 minutes. A warm, wet washcloth placed gently over the nose and mouth can also create the desired effect of breathing in warm, moist air.

If You Think Your Child May Have Croup, Visit Complete Care

Complete Care ER and urgent care locations are staffed by experienced medical professionals who are all too familiar with diagnosing croup and determining its level of severity. They may recommend over-the-counter treatments or prescribe a more aggressive form of treatment depending on the child and the case. Find a Complete Care location near you to get answers to your croup related questions.