What is Croup?

Croup is a childhood illness that causes inflammation and narrowing of the larynx, which is the voice-box, and trachea, the windpipe. Both are the main airways to the lungs. A child with croup has a distinctive barking cough and make a harsh sound, known as stridor, when they breathe in. Most dangerous is the swelling of a part of the trachea known as the subglottic area.

Although croup is usually mild, it sometimes causes severe breathing problems that may need emergency treatment. It is a fairly uncommon condition, that tends to affect more boys than girls and typically occurs between the ages of six months and six years.
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The peak age of infection is two and it becomes less common after three. Children with asthma may get repeated episodes.

What causes it?

Croup is divided into two types:

  • Viral (also known as laryngotracheitis) – this is caused by an infection and develops over a few days
  • Spasmodic – this consists of repeated, brief episodes of croup with no infection

The condition is usually caused by an infection, which can stem from viruses like the parainfluena virus. It is the most common virus to cause croup and is easily transmitted through close contact with infected people, surfaces or objects. Like the common Flu virus, it is usually spread through coughing and sneezing.

Other viruses which can cause croup include:

  • Croup sufferers have a characteristic barking cough and raspy breathing

    Influenza (the flu viruses)

  • Measles virus in children who have not been immunised
  • Chickenpox virus
  • Rhinovirus
  • Adenovirus
  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which can cause pneumonia in babies

An allergic reaction, acid reflux or inhalation of irritants can also cause croup, but this is less common.

What are the symptoms?

Children are more likely to get infected during the late autumn and early winter months and the initial symptoms are also like those of a common cold. These include a mild fever, runny nose and sore throat. After a day or two, the characteristic barking cough begins to develop. This is accompanied by stridor – a rasping sound when the child breathes in – shortness of breath and a hoarse voice. These symptoms are usually worse at night.

Sometimes symptoms can become severe, and it is important to seek emergency medical help if any of the following occur:

  • The child it having severe difficulty breathing
  • Stridor is worsening
  • The child appears to be distressed and agitated
  • Skin and/or lips appear pale, darker or blueish
  • Breathlessness (unable to feed or talk)
  • Skin around the ribs and chest looks more pulled in, making the bones stick out more
  • The child is abnormally drowsy or sleepy
  • A very high temperature
  • A rapid of falling heart rate

[adsense]Some of these symptoms may indicate a potentially life-threatening underlying condition called epiglottitis (inflammation of the epiglottis – the flap of cartilage that closes off the entry to the voice box when you swallow).

How is it treated?

So not try to look down your child’s throat. If he or she is suffering from epiglottitis, this could trigger a spasm of the airways. Instead, seek immediate medical attention.

Mild croup can often be treated at home by creating a damp breathing environment, taking paracetamol to relieve the fever and drinking plenty of fluids. In severe cases, the child is often hospitalised and sometimes treated with steroids, humidified oxygen and intubated to help them breathe.

Click here to read about how to deal with flu symptoms the drug-free way.

Images: Wikimedia Commons