Now that the weather seems to change daily, croup season is here. Have you heard the sounds of raspy, throaty voices in your house lately? This "noise" is ushering in croup season!
Croup is an infection that causes swelling of the larynx (vocal box) and trachea (windpipe) that in turn makes the airway just beneath the vocal cords become swollen and narrow. When you have swelling and narrowing of the airway breathing becomes more difficult and noisy and the sound that is made, almost like that of a seal barking, is called being “croupy”. Croup is quite common in young children, but the sound the emanates from that child when they cough, can be scary and concerning for both parent and child.
Children are most likely to get croup between the ages of six months and three years. As a child gets older croup is not as common as the trachea gets larger with age and therefore the swelling does not cause as much compromise. When you awaken in the middle of the night to hear your child “barking” in the next room you need to know what to do.
Most croup is caused by a common virus, so croup is not treated with antibiotics. The mainstay for the treatment of croup is try and calm you child, as they may be scared both from the tight feeling in their chest, as well as the sound that is made when they are breathing and coughing.
The best treatment for croup seems to be taking your child into the bathroom and turning the shower on hot. Let the steam from the hot water fill the room and sit in there and read a book or two to your child. Typically within five to 10 minutes (before the hot water runs out) the moist hot air should help your child’s breathing. They may still have the barking, croupy cough, but they should be more comfortable and will not look like they are having trouble breathing. If the moist steam does not work, and it is a cool fall night, go outside. That is right, taking your “croupy” child from the moist heat in the bathroom, outside to cool night air may also help open their airways.
If your child is showing signs of respiratory distress, with color change with coughing (turning blue while coughing, red is always good), is retracting (using their chest muscles between the ribs to help them breath), is grunting with each breath, or seems quite anxious and having trouble breathing you should call for emergency help. If a child is having real difficulty breathing they may be admitted to the hospital to have supplemental oxygen or breathing treatments.
Steroids have also been helpful when used for the correct patient population. Steroids may be used in both an outpatient and inpatient setting. Steroids help to reduce inflammation in the trachea and the symptoms lessen over several days. Steroids used in a short burst are not harmful to your child, and are indicated in a child who may have mild respiratory distress due their croup symptoms.
Your child may have symptoms of croup for several days, and for some reason they always seem to be worse at night. Put your child to bed with a cool mist humidifier in their room for the next several nights, this will also help to provide moisture to their airway. It is not uncommon for some children to seem more “prone to croup” and may get it recurrently all fall and winter. Have the humidifier handy and in working order!
That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.
Send your question or comment to Dr. Sue!