Croup 

Introduction 

Croup is a distinctive bark-like cough with a harsh sound known as stridor when breathing in  

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Croup is a childhood condition that affects the windpipe (trachea), the airways to the lungs (the bronchi) and the voice box (larynx).

A child with croup has a distinctive barking cough and will make a harsh sound, known as stridor, when they breathe in.

A blocked airway can also cause a hoarse voice and breathing difficulties.

Croup can usually be diagnosed by a GP and treated at home. However, if your child’s symptoms are severe and they are finding it difficult to breathe, take them to the nearest hospital’s accident and emergency (A&E) department.

Read more about the symptoms of croup and diagnosing croup.

Why does croup happen?

Commonly, croup is caused by a viral infection. In 80% of cases, the parainfluenza virus is responsible.

In some cases, croup may be caused by an allergic reaction.

There are two types of croup:

  • viral croup (laryngotracheitis) - which develops over several days and is caused by an infection
  • spasmodic croup - which involves repeated, short-lasting episodes of croup that can be caused by an allergic reaction

The same treatments are recommended for both viral croup and spasmodic croup.

Read more about the causes of croup.

Who is affected by croup?

Croup usually affects young children aged between six months and three years, with most cases occurring in two-year-olds. However, croup can sometimes develop in older children up to 15 years of age.

About three in 100 children will suffer from croup every year. The condition is more common during the late autumn and early winter months. 

It tends to affect more boys than girls.

It is occasionally possible for a child to experience croup more than once during childhood.

Treating croup

Most cases of croup are mild and can be treated at home. Sitting your child upright and comforting them if they are distressed is important, because crying may make symptoms worse. Your child should also drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.

A single dose of an oral corticosteroid medication called dexamethasone or prednisolone will usually also be prescribed to help reduce the swelling in the throat.

If your child has breathing problems, hospital treatment, such as adrenaline and an oxygen mask may be required.

Read more about treating croup.

Complications of croup

Around 60% of croup cases clear up within 48 hours. However, in some cases symptoms can last for up to two weeks.

It is very rare for a child to die from croup.

There are a number of conditions that can follow croup, such as pneumonia and middle ear infection.

Read more about the complications of croup.

Preventing croup

Croup is spread in a similar way to the common cold, so it is difficult to prevent.

Good hygiene is the main defence against croup, such as regularly washing hands and cleaning surfaces.

A number of your child's routine vaccinations also protect against some of the infections that can cause croup. These include:

  • MMR - protection from measles, mumps and rubella
  • DTaP/IPV/Hib - protection from diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio and Haemophilus influenzae type b

Page last reviewed: 15/08/2012

Next review due: 15/08/2014

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