Croup - Symptoms 

Symptoms of croup 

Difficulty breathing

Always seek medical advice if you or your child has breathing problems.

If you or they have severe breathing difficulties, dial 999 to ask for an ambulance.

A child can get croup at any time of the year, although it's more likely to occur during late autumn or early winter.

This may be because there are more colds and viruses around at this time of year.

Initial symptoms of viral croup are similar to those of a cold. They can include a:

Over 1-2 days, specific symptoms that are characteristic of croup will develop. These include:

  • a bark-like cough
  • a hoarse or croaky voice
  • difficulty breathing
  • a harsh grating sound when breathing in called stridor
  • difficulty swallowing

Symptoms of spasmodic croup are similar to those mentioned above. However, a bark-like cough and stridor tend to occur suddenly, usually at night.

Stridor is often most noticeable when the child cries or coughs. However, in more severe cases of croup it can also occur when the child is resting or sleeping. 

Symptoms tend to be worse at night. Although they usually only last for a few days, they can occasionally last up to two weeks.

When to seek medical advice

Croup can usually be diagnosed by a GP and mild cases can be treated at home.

However, seek immediate medical attention if your child has any of the following symptoms:

  • severe breathing difficulties
  • an increased breathing rate (they're too breathless to feed or talk) or 'silent chest' (you're unable to hear sounds of breathing)
  • a worsening cough or rasping sound (stridor)
  • distress and agitation
  • dark, blue-tinged or pale skin
  • the skin around their ribs and chest appears to be pulled in and tight, making the bones of their chest and ribs more visible
  • abnormal drowsiness and sleepiness
  • a rapid heartbeat or a falling heart rate

You should take them to your nearest hospital's accident and emergency (A&E) department or dial 999 for an ambulance.

Some of these symptoms may indicate a potentially life-threatening underlying condition called epiglottitis (inflammation and swelling of the epiglottis).

The symptoms could also indicate tracheitis (inflammation of the windpipe), which also requires immediate medical attention.

Page last reviewed: 15/08/2012

Next review due: 15/08/2014

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