Croup in Adults
Although croup is commonly observed in children who are 6 months to 3 years old, it is also possible for adults to get the infection in rare cases. Croup is a viral respiratory infection caused by human parainfluenza viruses (HPIVs). However, other causes of croup may include bacterial infection (staph infection), fungal infection, and other viruses.
Adults can get croup if they inhale air droplets from an infected person's sneeze or cough. These infected droplets can also survive on the surfaces of objects. Thus, you can also get croup when you touch contaminated surfaces or objects and then touch your nose, mouth, or eyes.
The viruses that cause croup attacks the body by making the bronchial tubes, windpipe, and vocal cords swell. This swelling causes the symptoms of croup, which are often more noticeable in children since they have smaller breathing passages compared to adults.
Symptoms of Croup in Adults
Croup often begins with a cold along with cough, runny nose, and fever. Croup symptoms in adults usually last for 2-4 days, and then get worse at night, especially when they lie down. Its common symptoms are hoarseness, a barking cough, and a whistling or breathing.
The symptoms of croup in adults are quite similar to those experienced by children. The hallmark of this infection is a barking cough similar to a seal barking due to the inflammation and swelling of the windpipe and the area around the vocal cords. This increased swelling then leads to the development of a hoarse voice, but without affecting a person's ability to swallow. Other symptoms of croup in adults include stridor (a high-pitched sound made when breathing) and dyspnea (shortness of breath).
Is croup contagious?
Croup is a contagious viral infection, particularly during the first few days of infection. Its incubation period is 24-72 hours between viral exposure and when symptoms start to develop. This respiratory infection usually spread from one infected child to other children or adults.
People can get croup if they are exposed to infected air droplets from other people who have the infection. It can be through an infected person's sneeze, cough, or by touching contaminated objects, such as doorknobs, toys, furniture, or remote controls and then touching your eyes, mouth, or nose. Initial symptoms may start to develop once you get infected with croup.
It is also important to note that croup can still be contagious even if the infected person has no fever and does not show any signs of illness. Children with croup are very contagious for three days after viral exposure or when their initial fever subsides. This infection can easily spread in a household, which is why older children, teens, and adults at home can get infected as well.
Croup may cause coughing and a sore throat in newly infected individuals without causing its hallmark barking cough, which is often observed in children with the infection.
Doctors diagnose croup by listening to people's breathing using a stethoscope as well as examine their throat. In some cases, a chest X-ray may be performed to rule out other possible respiratory infections.
An early diagnosis of croup is important so people with the infection can be treated before their condition becomes severe. If you suspect croup, consult a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Croup is generally a mild condition that usually goes away on its own after a few weeks. However, serious cases of croup may require additional treatment. Pain relievers or fever reducers, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, are usually recommended for people who have croup. Taking over-the-counter medications for cough and colds is not recommended since they may cause side effects and may not be effective in treating the symptoms of croup.
However, adults infected with croup may require a more aggressive treatment than children. To lessen the swelling in the airways, doctors may prescribe steroids, such as dexamethasone or through nebulization using epinephrine. If an adult has severe croup, hospitalization is often required. According to studies, adults with croup are usually hospitalized for a longer time than children with croup.
In some cases, a breathing tube may be placed in a person's windpipe to aid in breathing. After 3-5 days, most children with croup start to feel better. However, adults may have a longer recovery time.
The following home remedies can be used to help speed up your recovery:
- Use a humidifier: Using a humidifier can help add moisture to the air, which can make your breathing easier.
- Increase your fluid intake: It is very important to stay hydrated when you have a respiratory infection like croup.
- Rest: Help your body fight off the virus by getting enough sleep and rest.
- Stay upright: You can use extra pillows to elevate your head while in bed. Sitting in an upright position can help with the symptoms and can help you sleep and breathe better.
- Take over-the-counter pain relievers: OTC pain medications such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen can help reduce fever and pain.
Croup can be prevented by following the same precautionary measures to avoid the flu and common colds. Since croup is highly contagious, avoid contact with people who show signs and symptoms of cough and colds as much as possible. Other ways to prevent croup include:
- Wash your hands using soap and water, especially after using the toilet, after coughing or sneezing, and before preparing or eating food to prevent the spread of germs to other people.
- Use a hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable at the moment.
- When you sneeze or cough, cover your mouth with a tissue. Immediately throw the used tissue in a wastebasket and wash your hands afterward. If you do not have a tissue at the moment, sneeze or cough into your upper sleeve instead of using your hands.
- Avoid sharing eating utensils, such as cups, dishes, or silverware with other people.
- If you are sick, stay at home to prevent the spread of germs to others.
When to See a Doctor
Seek immediate medical help if you have any of the following conditions:
- If you notice a bluish discoloration of your skin, fingernails, or mouth.
- If you experience severe breathing problems.
- If you drool and cannot swallow your spit.
- If you feel extremely weak.
- If your symptoms get worse.