Croup is a common viral illness that affects children, and is characterized by symptoms that include a runny nose and an extreme cough. This viral infection affects the voice box and the wind pipe and may lead to obstruction in breathing. The vocal cords are swollen and as air is forced through this narrow passage, it results in a peculiar barking sound. Similarly, as air is taken in through the passage, it produces a high-pitched sound. These sounds are most characteristic of this pediatric illness. Fortunately, this disease is not very serious and can be treated successfully at home.
Croup is an infection caused by the parainfluenza virus. Breathing in of respiratory droplets containing the virus triggers infection and is the most common way in which the virus spreads. Droplets containing these infectious viruses may be present on toys or other surfaces, therefore, when these items are touched by a child, the virus will attach to his or her fingers. The child may then touch his or her eyes, nose, or mouth using the contaminated fingers. The infection is usually initiated in the nasal membrane from where it moves to the vocal cords and then to the wind pipe. Not all children who are exposed to this virus may develop croup.
In most cases, croup begins as a common cold. As the inflammation of the airways and vocal cords increases, it leads to the typical barking sound when the child coughs. The cough generally increases at night and is aggravated by crying as well. The child may become very restless and anxiety may also increase the symptoms of the disease. Breathing in air may become difficult, and it will be noisy too. The voice may become hoarse because of the inflammation. Fever is another common symptom of this condition. Croup is more commonly seen in children younger than 3-years-old, as they have small airways and the symptoms may be more pronounced in them. The symptoms may last for three to five days in children. Medical attention is required if there is serious airway obstruction.
The following symptoms can be considered as the warning signs that need to be brought to the attention of a medical practitioner:
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty swallowing
- High-pitched sound while breathing
- Fast breathing
- Presence of bluish skin around the nose, mouth, or finger nails
In most cases, the disease can be treated at home without hospitalization.