Should Your Child See a Doctor?
Is this your child's symptom?
- Infection of the voicebox larynx caused by a virus
- The croupy cough is tight, low-pitched, and barky like a barking seal
- The voice or cry is hoarse called laryngitis
- Some children with severe croup get a harsh,tight sound while breathing in. This is called stridor.
Stridor: A Complication of Croup
- Stridor is a harsh, raspy tight sound best heard with breathing in
- Loud or constant stridor means severe croup
- All stridor needs to be treated with warm mist
- Most children with stridor need treatment with a steroid such as Decadron
- For any stridor, see First Aid for treatment
Causes of a Croupy Cough
- Viral Croup. Viruses are the most common cause of croup symptoms. Many respiratory viruses can infect the vocal cord area and cause narrowing. Even influenza the flu can do this. A fever is often present with the barky cough.
- Allergic Croup. A croupy cough can occur with exposure to pollens or allergens in a barn. A runny nose, itchy eyes and sneezing are also often present.
- Inhaled Powder. Breathing in any fine substance can trigger 10 minutes of severe coughing. Examples are powdered sugar, flour dust or peanut dust. They can float into the lungs. This is not an allergic reaction.
- Airway Foreign Body Serious. Suspect when there is a sudden onset of coughing and choking. Common examples are peanut and seeds. Peak age is 1 to 4 years.
- Food Allergy Serious. Croup symptoms can also be caused by a food allergy. This can be life-threatening anaphylaxis. Examples are nuts or fish.
Return to School
- Your child can go back to school after the fever is gone. Your child should also feel well enough to join in normal activities. For practical purposes, the spread of croup and colds can't be prevented.
When to Call for Croup
Call 911 Now
- Severe trouble breathing struggling for each breath, constant severe stridor
- Passed out or stopped breathing
- Lips or face are bluish when not coughing
- Croup started suddenly after bee sting, taking a new medicine or allergic food
- Drooling, spitting or having great trouble swallowing Exception: drooling due to teething
- You think your child has a life-threatening emergency
Call Doctor Now or Go to ER
- Stridor harsh sound with breathing in is heard now
- Trouble breathing Exception: present only when coughing
- Lips or face have turned bluish during coughing
- Ribs are pulling in with each breath retractions
- Can't bend the neck forward
- Severe chest pain
- Age less than 1 year old with stridor
- Had croup before that needed Decadron
- Weak immune system. Such as sickle cell disease, HIV, cancer, organ transplant, taking oral steroids
- High-risk child such as with cystic fibrosis or other chronic lung disease
- Fever over 104° F (40° C)
- Age under 12 weeks old with fever. Caution: Do NOT give your baby any fever medicine before being seen
- Your child looks or acts very sick
- You think your child needs to be seen, and the problem is urgent
Call Doctor Within 24 Hours
- Stridor harsh sound with breathing in occurred but not present now
- Nonstop coughing
- Age less than 1 year old with a croupy cough
- Earache or ear drainage
- Fever lasts more than 3 days
- Fever returns after gone for more than 24 hours
- You think your child needs to be seen, but the problem is not urgent
Call Doctor During Office Hours
- Coughing causes vomiting 3 or more times
- Croup is a frequent problem 3 or more times
- Barky cough lasts more than 14 days
- You have other questions or concerns
Self Care at Home
- Mild croup barky cough with no complications
Seattle Children’s Urgent Care Locations
If your child’s illness or injury is life-threating, call 911.
Care Advice for Croup
- What You Should Know About Croup:
- Most children with croup just have a barky cough.
- Some have tight breathing called stridor.Stridor is a loud, harsh sound when breathing in. It comes from the area of the voicebox.
- Coughing up mucus is very important. It helps protect the lungs from pneumonia.
- We want to help a productive cough, not turn it off.
- Here is some care advice that should help.
- First Aid For Stridor Harsh sound with breathing in:
- Breathe warm mist in a closed bathroom with the hot shower running. Do this for 20 minutes.
- You could also use a wet washcloth held near the face.
- Caution: Do not use very hot water or steam which could cause burns.
- If warm mist fails, breathe cool air by standing near an open refrigerator. You can also go outside with your child if the weather is cold. Do this for a few minutes.
- Calm Your Child if He or She has Stridor:
- Crying or fear can make stridor worse.
- Try to keep your child calm and happy.
- Hold and comfort your child.
- Use a soothing, soft voice.
- If the air in your home is dry, use a humidifier.
- Reason: Dry air makes croup worse.
- Homemade Cough Medicine:
- Goal: Decrease the irritation or tickle in the throat that causes a dry cough.
- Age 3 months to 1 year: Give warm clear fluids to treat the cough. Examples are apple juice and lemonade. Amount: Use a dose of 1-3 teaspoons (5-15 ml). Give 4 times per day when coughing. Caution: Do not use honey until 1 year old.
- Age 1 year and older: Use honey ½ to 1 teaspoon (2-5 ml) as needed. It works as a homemade cough medicine. It can thin the secretions and loosen the cough. If you don't have any honey, you can use corn syrup.
- Age 6 years and older: Use cough drops to coat the sore throat. If you don't have any, you can use hard candy.
- Non-Prescription Cough Medicine DM:
- Non-prescription cough medicines are not advised. Reason: No proven benefit for children and not approved under 4 years old. FDA 2008.
- Honey has been shown to work better for coughs. Caution: Do not use honey until 1 year old.
- If age over 4 years old, you might decide to use a cough medicine. Choose one with dextromethorphan DM such as Robitussin Cough. DM is present in most non-prescription cough syrups.
- When to Use: Give only for severe coughs that interfere with sleep or school.
- DM Dose: Give every 6 to 8 hours as needed.
- Coughing Fits or Spells - Warm Mist:
- Breathe warm mist such as with shower running in a closed bathroom.
- Give warm clear fluids to drink. Examples are apple juice and lemonade.
- Age under 3 months. Don't use.
- Age 3 - 12 months of age. Give 1 ounce (30 ml) each time. Limit to 4 times per day.
- Age over 1 year of age. Give as much as needed.
- Reason: Both relax the airway and loosen up any phlegm.
- Fluids - Offer More:
- Try to get your child to drink lots of fluids.
- Goal: Keep your child well hydrated.
- It also loosens up any phlegm in the lungs. Then it's easier to cough up.
- Fever Medicine:
- For fevers above 102° F (39° C), give an acetaminophen product such as Tylenol.
- Another choice is an ibuprofen product such as Advil.
- Note: Fevers less than 102° F (39° C) are important for fighting infections.
- For all fevers: Keep your child well hydrated. Give lots of cold fluids.
- Sleep Close By to Your Child:
- Sleep in the same room with your child for a few nights.
- Reason: Stridor can start all of a sudden at night.
- Avoid Tobacco Smoke:
- Tobacco smoke makes croup much worse.
- Return to School:
- Your child can go back to school after the fever is gone.
- Your child should also feel well enough to join in normal activities.
- For practical purposes, the spread of croup and colds cannot be prevented.
- What to Expect:
- Most often, croup lasts 5 to 6 days and becomes worse at night.
- The croupy cough can last up to 2 weeks.
- Call Your Doctor If:
- Stridor harsh raspy sound occurs
- Croupy cough lasts more than 14 days
- You think your child needs to be seen
- Your child becomes worse
And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.
Last Reviewed: 09/01/2012
Last Revised: 09/01/2012
Copyright 1994-2015 Barton D. Schmitt, MD. All rights reserved.