Croup is a viral upper respiratory infection that causes swelling of the trachea and larynx (voice box) which causes young children to cough and at times to bark like a seal. This hoarse raspy cough is most problematic in younger children who have smaller airways.
Children often go to bed at night with nothing more than a little runny nose, and then suddenly awaken with this barking cough. Many times the noise emanating from the child's room sounds more like a sick animal than your previously healthy toddler and may be alarming to both parents and the child.
Whenever you awaken to a croupy child, the first thing to do is turn on the hot shower and shut the bathroom door as you head down the hall to your child's room. After getting your child, grab several of their favorite books and head back to the steamy bathroom. Sit in the bathroom and try to calm your child down and let the steam work.
Typically in several minutes (or until the hot water runs out) their coughing should improve and they will relax. Remember, they have suddenly awakened and are trying to figure out what is going on as well so they may appear to be tired and anxious as well.
In most cases the steam and humidity will help to relax the airway. If the steam doesn't seem to be working after 5- 10 minutes try going outside into the cool night air. Many times a frantic parent will put their child into the car for a trip to the ER, only to find the child perfectly calm and no longer coughing on arrival to the hospital. The reason being, the cool air has also helped to calm the coughing.
If your child is having stridor (a high pitched squeal) when they breath in and appears to be having any respiratory distress with pulling of their ribs when they are breathing (called retractions), then you need to call your doctor. If they are coughing and turning bright red while coughing be reassured that they are still moving air well. You should not see any duskiness or blue color and if you do call 911. (Remember the adage blue is bad, and red is good).
If by morning your child is having continued symptoms you may want to see your doctor as steroids (given orally or by injection) may be used to help shrink the airway swelling. Most cases of croup do not require hospitalization. After several days of croup your child will probably be well.
Lastly, older children and adults may also get the virus that causes croup, but with larger airways will simply show signs of laryngitis and being hoarse.
That's your daily dose for today. I'm Dr. Sue Hubbard from The Kid's Doctor.