Croup is an inflammation of the larynx and trachea, mostly seen in young children, but can appear in adults as well. Barking coughs, varying degrees of airway obstruction, and hoarseness are the symptoms of croup. A variety of infectious conditions can lead to croup. It is also known as laryngotracheobronchitis. The barking cough that is characteristic of croup results from swelling and inflammation around the vocal chords and windpipe. Symptoms usually improve within a few days, but hospitalization may be needed in severe cases. Croup affects 3 percent of children between 6 months and 3 years of age in the United States.
Symptoms of croup may include:
- a loud, barking cough that gets worse at night
- labored, noisy breathing
- high fever
These symptoms last about three to five days. The most obvious signs of croup are a cough that sounds like a barking seal and a high-pitched sound when you take a breath. Make sure to see your doctor if you have these signs of the illness. Symptoms are usually worse in adults than in children. A 2000 study looked at 11 cases of adult croup and compared them to 43 cases of child croup. Researchers found upper respiratory tract symptoms and noisy breathing were much more common in adults.
What Causes Croup?
Croup is most commonly caused by a viral respiratory infection. Common viral causes include influenza, adenovirus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and rhinovirus. Prior to the vaccine era, diphtheria caused most cases of croup and was referred to as membranous croup, but today, fortunately, vaccination against diphtheria has made it an exceedingly rare disease.
How Is Croup Diagnosed?
Diagnosing croup begins with the physician observing breathing patterns, listening to the person’s chest using a stethoscope and checking the throat. Common croup symptoms are also examined, such as the sound of the patient’s cough and temperature. Your physician may also inquire if you recently had a cold or a viral infection. A pulse oximetry test may also be recommended, wherein a sensor is clipped onto your earlobe or finger to determine their oxygen levels, and whether you are absorbing enough oxygen into the blood. While croup can be diagnosed by checking symptoms, X-rays or other tests might be utilized to rule out other diseases. After all of these tests, your physician will decide whether hospitalization is required or the disease can be treated for at home.
Adults with croup may need more aggressive treatment than children. Your doctor might prescribe a steroid, such as dexamethasone or epinephrine to lessen swelling in your airways. You might need to spend time in the hospital if your condition is severe. Research shows that adults with croup typically stay in the hospital longer than children with croup. Sometimes doctors will need to place a breathing tube in your windpipe to help you breathe.
You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Make sure to discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.