Croup is described as an infection of the upper respiratory tract, involving the trachea and larynx, which causes obstruction in breathing. The trachea and larynx connect the upper portion of the lungs to the mouth. Croup is characterized by a barking cough.
Croup is very common in children. Those between the ages 1 to 3 are most commonly affected by this condition and boys are more commonly affected than girls. Some children can experience more than two bouts of croup during childhood. By the age of 6, croup becomes uncommon, as the breathing tube in children becomes wider and firmer as they grow.
This condition is caused by a viral infection, the parainfluenza virus. Croup may be passed on to other people and can be easily spread through close contact. A child may also contract the virus by breathing in infected respiratory droplets. The virus may also live on toys or other surfaces. When a child has touched a contaminated surface and then touches his or her eyes, mouth or nose, it is probable that the child may develop infection.
Croup can happen any time of the year, but it commonly occurs during winter and late autumn. It could also affect adults, but it is rare.
What are the Symptoms of Croup?
Croup may develop after a cold, or may appear without warning. The following are the common symptoms of croup:
- Cough – a harsh or barking cough is a common manifestation of croup. The presence of a cough is caused by the swelling and inflammation of the vocal cords in the larynx.
- Breathing problems – the lining inside the breathing tube is affected by infection. Plenty of thick mucus may develop in the breathing tube. This phenomenon will lead to narrowing of the tube. As a result, stridor or noisy breathing occurs. If the breathing tube continues to narrow, breathing can be difficult.
Other symptoms include a sore throat, runny nose and hoarseness. Other flu-like symptoms such as fever, general aches, feeling unwell and loss of appetite may also be present. The symptoms are worse at night.
How is Croup Treated?
Croup is usually not that serious and in most cases, croup can be managed successfully at home. However, some children need to go to the hospital or doctor’s office due to their condition.
As croup causes airway obstructions, it is important for the child to stay calm. Agitation and crying can aggravate the obstruction of airway. Parents must be able to comfort their child to avoid worsening the condition.
If the child’s condition is not getting better through home treatment and the condition continues to worsen, the child may be prescribed a steroid which can help lessen the inflammation in the breathing tube. Dexamethasone, a type of steroid, is usually given because the effects of the drug can last for up to 72 hours. Other steroid drugs only last for 6 hours. Another medication is epinephrine. It is also good in managing inflammation. Although epinephrine is fast acting, the effects quickly wear off.
In severe cases of croup, the child may be admitted in the hospital for more management. A temporary tube may be placed in the child’s respiratory tract in some rare cases.