Healthy Living

Croup in Adults

Croup in Adults

Key Takeaways

  • The cases of croup in adults usually occur anywhere from two to four days after contracting the infection.
  • Similar to croup in children, the symptoms of croup in adults are often worse at night.
  • The parainfluenza virus is the most common cause of croup in adults.

Croup is a very common respiratory infection in children, but can also occur in adults. 

Croup causes an obstruction in the passage of air through a person's airway, resulting in a barking cough and noisy breathing. The reason for these symptoms is the inflammation of the trachea and larynx, and sometimes including the bronchi or bronchial tubes. The swelling of the vocal cord also results in a noisy cough and the inhalation of breath making a high-pitched sound called stridor.

Children, particularly those from 1 to 3 years old, are commonly the ones affected by croup. The reason is that they have small and narrow airways. As children grow up, their breathing tubes become wider and more firm, which is why croup is not common after the age of six. At this stage, the chances of having croup are greatly decreased. However, it is still possible to acquire croup throughout a person's life. Even adults can still be affected by this viral illness.

What are the symptoms of croup in adults?

The cases of croup in adults usually show symptoms after an incubation period of 2 to 4 days. During this period, a mild cough, rhinorrhea, and a low-grade fever appear. Later on in the illness, the telltale cough develops, which is the result of the inflammation of the patients' airways. Exudates and erythema are also observed.

A cough that results from croup is characterized by a harsh, barking sound that resembles the sound of seals. Hoarseness of voice may also occur because of the swelling of the vocal cords. The swelling caused by croup does not usually cause a difficulty in swallowing. Similar to croup in children, the symptoms of croup in adults are usually worse at night. Apart from the symptoms already mentioned, many patients could also show a discoloration of the skin during their croup infection. The skin around the nose, mouth, and fingernails can turn gray or blue. If this happens, then you must contact your doctor immediately.

Causes of Croup in Adults

The parainfluenza virus (a viral infection) is the most common cause of croup in adults. Adults can contract the virus by breathing in infected particles that are introduced into the air through coughing or sneezing. These airborne droplets contain virus particles, which remain alive on many different surfaces. While parainfluenza viruses are the main causes of croup in adults and children, there are several other viruses that can cause croup as well.  These other viruses that can cause croup include the adenovirus, which is part of another group of common cold viruses, respiratory syncytial virus, and measles.

Other than viruses, croup is also known to be caused by allergies, bacterial infections, or a continued exposure to harmful and inhaled irritants. However, these causes are rare.

Diagnosing Croup

Your doctor is able to diagnose whether you have croup or not with the help of a physical examination. Apart from the physical examination, your doctor will also listen to the sound of your cough, observe your breathing pattern, and ask you to describe the symptoms that you have been experiencing. In some cases, a doctor is able to diagnose if you have croup or not just by listening to your cough. If your symptoms are serious and persist over time, then the doctors could also prescribe a throat examination or an X-ray to diagnose if you are suffering from other respiratory conditions that further make the condition severe.

How is croup in adults treated?

In general, croup in both children and adults is a mild condition and will disappear on its own in a few weeks or days. Some cases can still become serious and will require additional treatment. During the treatment for croup, it is not recommended to have a combination of a cough or cold medicine. While these are ineffective in treating most symptoms of croup, they can also lead to side effects that are proven to worsen the condition. Doctors also recommend

Doctors also recommend the use of painkillers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen to relieve pain and fever. For more severe cases of croup, an oral cortisone medication is often prescribed by doctors. Many patients, although rare, can have severe respiratory symptoms that require the administration of inhalation therapy in the hospital. Such therapy can provide a temporary relief from the symptoms but is usually followed by a return of equally severe symptoms. Hence, this method of treatment is not recommended but is prescribed under constant medical supervision to some patients only. 

For a bacterial croup, doctors could also recommend antibiotics to treat and provide relief from the symptoms. Other ways to provide relief from the symptoms is to drink fluids and keep well-hydrated. You should also not undertake any strenuous physical activities since your body needs time to recover.

The most important key in the treatment of croup is to remain calm during an attack. Panicking and being agitated will only make the situation worse by causing further inflammation. The use of steam or a vaporizer may be recommended to relieve a patient's congestion. If the condition is not getting better with treatment, the patient should consult the doctor immediately.

How can I prevent croup?

Croup is a contagious illness that can be spread among people. You can contract the virus through close contact with infected people. The preventive measures that are used to stop the spread of influenza and the common cold are the same as those for the prevention of croup, as all these common illnesses are types of transmissible respiratory conditions.

Some of the techniques used to prevent croup are regular handwashing and keeping your hands away from your mouth or nose. Anything that came in contact with someone who is infected with croup should be also considered infected, and must not be handled or touched by other people. Many serious cases, although rare, are caused by conditions and illnesses such as measles. To avoid contracting such dangerous conditions, adults and children should have completed their corresponding vaccinations.