Croup is a viral infection that causes swelling of the airway. As a result, the airway becomes narrower, making it difficult to breathe. It is also accompanied by an irritation in the larynx (voice box) and trachea (windpipe). This condition is also known as laryngotracheobronchitis because the bronchi, larynx, and trachea are affected by the virus. The condition begins like a common cold and then followed by a harsh, barking sound. The symptoms of croup become worse when the air is cooler.
The virus that causes croup is similar to what causes the common cold. The typical first signs of infection usually include a runny nose and cough, which will last for up to five days. The infection also increases the production of mucus. Croup is one of the most common conditions in young children that causes respiratory distress.
The symptoms of croup include hoarseness, noisy breathing (stridor), and a barking cough, which lasts for three to four days. The diagnosis is easily made through physical examination, auscultation of the chest, and the description of the symptoms.
In most cases, croup can be effectively treated at home. Home treatments include making your child feel relaxed and calm as much as possible, giving over-the-counter drugs for fever and pain, and letting your child drink plenty of fluids. For unresolved symptoms, immediate medical help is needed to address the child’s worsening condition. In some cases, children with croup may need to be immediately admitted to the hospital.
Can croup be prevented?
The virus that causes croup can be spread through sneezing or coughing. Another form of transmission is through touching objects and surfaces that are contaminated by the virus. The virus on the objects can survive for several hours while airborne particles are infectious for an hour. Thus, adults and children should always take special preventive measures before touching any possible contaminated objects.
It is almost impossible to prevent croup as it is highly contagious. There is still no immunization available against the viruses that cause croup. The reason is that it is almost impossible to stop breathing. When infected droplets are present in the air, then they would definitely get into the body of people who inhale it. However, it is recommended that children should be given immunization against influenza because it may help prevent croup that is caused by the parainfluenza virus.
Children and infants who are 6 months old and up can receive immunization against influenza. The said immunization is also highly recommended for children who have underlying chronic illnesses such as cystic fibrosis and asthma. However, immunization is not a guaranteed prevention of croup, but still can be opted because taking measures is always better than taking no measures at all.
There are ways to prevent the chance of getting this viral infection. They include:
- Frequent handwashing – The hands must be washed using water and an antimicrobial soap. The hands must be rubbed together focusing on the fingernails, wrists, and between the fingers. Handwashing should last for 15 to 30 seconds. Rinse your hands thoroughly and dry them with a clean towel.
- Avoid people who have the virus – This preventive measure is somewhat difficult, especially in public places. Just limit your contact with people, especially those who have a cough as much as possible. Children must not be sent to school while they are sick as this can only cause the spread of the virus and make other children ill, too. It would be difficult to follow this preventive measure because you will not always know who is carrying the virus until the symptoms appear or the infected person tells you about their condition. It might happen that by the time one learns about the infection, it has already spread to many people.
- Using alcohol-based handrubs – This is a good way of disinfecting your hands if you cannot wash your hands for the meantime. Use handrubs on your hands and wrists. It can be used many times each day. However, when there is an available sink, handwashing is still the priority.
You can avoid your exposure to contaminated objects and surfaces by keeping your hands as well as objects clean and away from your mouth.
Prognosis for Children with Croup
The prognosis for children with croup is very good as most cases can be managed at home. It is very rare that children will need medications such as steroids. It is also extremely unusual for a child with croup to be hospitalized. The course of croup runs within three to five days during which children need to be managed properly to avoid the spread of infection. The following measures can be taken for the effective management of children who are having croup:
- Keep the child calm by playing simple games and comfort the child through reading bedtime stories.
- Many children feel comfortable with humid air because they feel that their breathing is improved with it. Children can be taken to bathrooms where hot running water produces steam. A humidifier can also be used.
- It is important for children to maintain an upright position because it helps in making their breathing easier when coughing. This position can be done by placing the child in a comfortable chair or letting your child sit on your lap.
- Fluids are very important to be consumed during the condition because they can help soothe a child. A soup can be good for older children while small babies can be given breast milk, water, or formula.
- Sleep can also help hasten the process of recovery. Thus, it is important for children to sleep more so their body can have more energy in fighting the infection.
- Children can be given over-the-counter (OTC) medicines for fever if they have developed an increased body temperature.
- It is strongly recommended that any over-the-counter cold preparations, which are not prescribed by the doctor, must not be given to children as it can increase the development of other health complications.
Croup is such a contagious condition that one needs to be extremely cautious to prevent its spread. If anyone at home is infected with the virus, other family members need to take extra measures to prevent themselves from catching the infection.