Croup is an infection of both the larynx and the trachea which commonly affects young children. It occurs in more boys than girls and is characterised by a barking, ‘seal-like’ cough.

Causes of croup

The majority of cases are caused by a group of viruses, usually the parainfluenza virus which affects the respiratory tract. This causes ‘the flu’and includes fever, sore throat, muscle pains and headache amongst its many symptoms.

Croup can be caused two other lesser known viruses –respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) which affects the airways and lungs and adenovirus which affects the tissues of the airways, intestines and urinary tract.

Bacterial infections can lead to croup but this tends to be rare.

Croup tends to occur in the winter and is very similar to a cold.

Symptoms of croup

These include:

  • High temperature
  • Barking cough which sounds like a seal
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Hoarse or croaky voice

The barking type cough usually develops in the first few days of the infection.

Breathing is affected as the airways become swollen and inflamed which can cause a high pitched ‘squealing’ sound as the child breathes in.

In more serious cases the child may develop a blue tinge around their mouth –known as ‘cyanosis’ which is caused by a lack of oxygen. If this happens then seek medical advice.

Can croup be treated at home?

Many cases of croup will disappear on their own accord and do not require any treatment. But if you are worried then speak to your GP.

Treatment for croup

Mild cases of croup can be dealt with at home. If your child has a temperature then a painkiller such as paracetamol will help. Ensure that he/she has plenty of fluids and prop them up with a few pillows to aid with their breathing.

Paracetamol and ibuprofen are two well recognised painkillers which are available over the counter from your pharmacy. If you are unsure as to whether they are suitable for your child, e.g. due to their age then ask your pharmacist for advice.

Do NOT give your child aspirin.

Consult your GP if your child’s croup worsens. If he/she develops breathing difficulties, has a blue tinge to the skin around their mouth, is dehydrated and is generally, very ill then seek urgent medical attention.

If your child is struggling to breathe then call an ambulance.

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