Croup is a viral condition that causes swelling around the vocal cords. It is characterized by breathing difficulties and cough that sounds like a barking seal. Many of the viruses responsible for croup also cause the common cold. Most active in the fall and winter months, croup usually targets children under the age of 5.
Commonly, croup is caused by an infection. There are two types of this condition - viral and spasmodic. Viral croup is caused by any virus that infects the voice box and windpipe. The virus that most often causes croup is parainfluenza. It might start out like a cold. But over time, your child will develop a “barky” cough. He also may make a high-pitched, wheezing sound in his lower airway when he breathes in. The croup sound in the upper airway is a harsh, loud sound known as “stridor.” On the other hand, spasmodic croup comes on suddenly, often in the middle of the night. Your child might wake up gasping for air. He might also be hoarse, have stridor, and a barky cough. Fever isn’t common with spasmodic croup. Doctors believe it may be caused by an allergy or reflux from the stomach. For example, that happens when contents from your baby’s stomach move back up into his esophagus. No matter which type of croup it is, any time your child has difficulty breathing, retractions, or stridor at rest, immediate medical attention is needed. Stridor when crying, or playing, or a barky cough is not an emergency. But if you have any concerns, make sure to call your baby’s doctor.
Is croup contagious? How does it spread?
Croup is contagious and is usually spread by airborne infectious droplets sneezed or even coughed by infected children. Every time a healthy child inhales infectious droplets, symptoms can develop in two to three days. The infection can also be spread by infected mucus deposited on doors, furniture, toys, and other objects. A healthy child can become infected by accidentally touching the infectious mucus and transferring the infection into his/her mouth.
The infection starts with a cold, cough, and low-grade temperature that usually lasts two to three days. Then the typical barking cough is usually present by day three and is more likely to be worse at night. The presence of stridor (wheezing on inspiration), hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and respiratory distress are common but may or may not be severe.
In order to prevent croup, take the same steps you use to prevent colds and flu. Frequent hand-washing is the most important of all steps. Moreover, keep your child away from anyone who's sick, and encourage your child to cough or sneeze into his or her elbow. To stave off more-serious infections, keep your child's vaccinations current. The diphtheria and Haemophilus influenza type b vaccines offer protection from some of the rarest. There isn't a vaccine yet that protects against parainfluenza viruses.
The majority of cases of croup can be treated at home. Still, croup can be scary, especially if it lands your child in the doctor's office, emergency room or hospital. Comforting your child and keeping him or her calm are important. This is simply because crying and agitation can worsen airway obstruction. Hold your child, sing lullabies or read quiet stories. Speak in a soothing voice. If your child's symptoms persist beyond three to five days or worsen, your child's doctor may prescribe a type of steroid in order to reduce inflammation in the airway. Benefits will usually be felt within six hours. Dexamethasone is usually recommended because of its long-lasting effects.
Most cases of croup are caused by the same viruses that cause the common cold or influenza. Prevention strategies are similar for all these viruses. They include frequent hand-washing, keeping hands and objects out of the mouth, and avoiding people who are not feeling well. Some of the most serious cases of croup are caused by conditions such as measles. To avoid dangerous ailments such as this, parents should keep their children on schedule for appropriate vaccinations.