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It can be downright scary when your child wakes up with a barking cough.
Croup is a common illness in young children, especially in fall and winter months. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) defines croup as an infection that causes a swelling of the voice box and windpipe, making breathing noisy and difficult.
While most episodes of croup are mild, the illness is responsible for up to 15 percent of emergency department visits due to respiratory disease in children in this country.
Children are most likely to get croup between 6 months and 5 years of age. The AAP describes two different types of croup:
With either type of croup, your child may make a high-pitched or squeaking sound when breathing in. This is called stridor. While it’s most common with mild croup, the danger with stridor is that the airway will keep swelling, making breathing difficult. If your child has stridor at rest, it can be a sign of severe croup.
The same viruses that cause the common cold also cause croup. In fact, symptoms of croup usually start out like a cold, with a stuffy or runny nose and low-grade fever, then your child may become hoarse and develop a barking cough. It’s often worse at night.
Most children get better in a few days, and most cases of croup are mild and can be treated at home:
If home remedies don’t work, your pediatrician may prescribe a steroid medication or a breathing treatment to reduce swelling in the airway. For spasmodic croup, your child may need an allergy or reflux medicine to help with breathing. Stay away from cough syrups, which may be harmful.
Although most cases are mild, croup can become serious and prevent your child from breathing normally. If you’re concerned that your child's croup is not improving, contact your pediatrician.
Call 911 or get immediate medical care if your child:
If you have any concerns about croup and your child, contact your pediatrician.
One way to protect against illnesses like croup is hand washing. Encourage your kids to wash their hands regularly and properly.
Learn more about children’s services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.
Learn about our pediatric emergency care.
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