Healthy Living

Differentiating Croup from Asthma

Differentiating Croup from Asthma

Key Takeaways

  • Croup affects the upper respiratory tract.
  • Asthma affects the lungs.
  • Both croup and asthma have the potential to be severe conditions that could be life-threatening.

Croup and asthma are two conditions that involve organs, which are responsible for breathing. Since both conditions affect the respiratory system, it is highly advisable to learn their differences to be able to approach each condition properly.

What Is Croup?

Croup is typically caused by a virus. It suddenly appears in the middle of the night, which makes a child have breathing difficulties as well as coughing. Very often, croup is accompanied by cold symptoms such as a runny nose and fever. As the affected area continues to swell, the child’s voice may become hoarse with a loud barking cough. Croup mostly affects younger children below 5 years old. Some children are more susceptible to croup if they have the condition repeatedly. Croup is not common in older children, adolescents, as well as adults. If these groups acquired croup, the cause involves factors that temporarily narrow the airways.

What Is Asthma?

For a child with asthma, the air passages in the lungs become swollen and narrow; thus, breathing becomes more difficult. Extra mucus is also produced in the lungs. The most common symptoms of asthma include coughing, chest tightness, wheezing, and shortness of breath.

Asthma can be caused by both environmental and genetic factors. Environmental factors include allergens such as pollen, dust, animal dander, and mold. Asthma may also be exacerbated by air pollutants, weather changes, exercise, stress, and respiratory infections. Children tend to develop asthma if they are exposed to secondhand smoke, have a relative with asthma, have existing allergies, or overweight.

Croup vs. Asthma

The first difference between croup and asthma is the location and areas affected. Croup affects the trachea and larynx, which are located on the upper respiratory airways, while asthma involves the lower respiratory tract that has the lungs. Both conditions get in the way of breathing.

Cough could be the most evident difference between croup and asthma. A barking cough that sounds like a seal is heard in croup, while in asthma, the cough is more of a wheezing sound. There is no hoarseness similar to that of a croup cough.

Croup is usually diagnosed based on the description of symptoms and by conducting a physical examination.  Croup is a mild condition that can be cured quickly, even on its own. However, asthma is a chronic condition, which requires a long-term treatment to control.

Managing Croup and Asthma Attacks

Croup can be treated with moist or cool air. Steam and vaporizers can also help relieve the symptoms of croup at night. Medications such as paracetamol and ibuprofen may be given to manage fever and discomfort. To reduce the swelling of the airways, corticosteroids are given, but this is done in the hospital, and healthcare professionals are the only people authorized to give the medication to the child.

Almost all cases of asthma in children are treated with steroids in the form of an inhalant. It’s a quick-relief medication when breathing problems suddenly occur. To prevent asthma attacks, long-acting medications are also prescribed.

Mild cases of croup are safely managed at home. However, immediate medical attention is needed once the child experiences noisy and high-pitched sounds during inhalation, drooling, difficulty swallowing, high fever, and extreme agitation. If the child is struggling to breathe, unresponsive to home treatments or having retractions, bring the child to the nearest hospital to receive an emergency medical intervention. Both croup and asthma have the potential to be severe conditions which could be life threatening.

Both croup and asthma have the potential to be severe conditions that could be life-threatening.