Symptoms of croup 

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 viruses, such as colds and flu, around at this time of year.

Typical symptoms of croup include: 

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

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

Symptoms tend to be worse at night.

Some children have cold-like symptoms for a few days before developing croup symptoms.

These cold-like symptoms can include:

Although croup symptoms 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
  • a very high temprature
  • an inability to drink fluids

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.


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.

Page last reviewed: 28/08/2014

Next review due: 28/08/2016