A child blowing her nose into a tissue.
Croup is often caused by the common cold.

What Is Croup Cough?

We've all experienced a cough and we know that it is no laughing matter. Accompanied with a cough can come a fever and difficulty breathing. It can cause shortness of breath which can make us worry, especially when it occurs in kids. A common cough found in children is croup cough. You may be wondering, what is croup cough? It’s an intense cough. In this article, we discuss what a croup cough is, its causes and how it is treated.

What Is Croup?

Croup is a common disease among children characterized by an inflammation of the larynx (voice box) and the trachea (windpipe), associated with drawing in of the chest wall. Due to the narrowed air passage and pressure from the larynx, both coughing and breathing during croup produce distinct symptoms that make it identifiable. It is often diagnosed in children aged six months to three years old, but there are cases outside of this range. On rare occasions, adults can also develop this condition.

What Causes Croup Cough?

Several viruses are known to cause croup, but the most typical one is the common cold. Even though this is the most common cause, there are also less common causes. The following types of viruses can also cause croup:

  • Adenoviruses and rhinoviruses (other types of viruses that cause common colds)
  • Certain strains of influenza viruses
  • Measles virus
  • Respiratory syncytial virus
  • Enteroviruses

Aside from viral infection, croup can also be caused by the following:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Inhaling foreign bodies or chemical irritants
  • Epiglottitis
  • Acid reflux
  • Bacterial infections

Although croup can be acquired at any time of the year, it has been noted to occur more frequently during cold months.

As the causes of croup are often from a viral or bacterial infection, this means taking the same precautionary measures as common colds and the flu. Regular hand washing and observing proper hygiene can go a long way to avoid developing croup.

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What Are the Symptoms?

The most prominent sign of croup is the immediate onset of a distinct coughing sound comparable to barking. This usually gets worse at night. Most croup cases may be accompanied by one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Cold-like symptoms, such as the runny nose and occasional sneezing
  • Fever
  • Hoarseness of voice
  • Labored or heavy breathing
  • Indrawing of the chest wall

Aside from the fact that croup usually affects children below three years old, croup symptoms tend to be more severe for children in this age group. The fact that the child's respiratory system is smaller than adults contributes to the severity of croup in children. Although croup comes with symptoms that can be rather alarming, it is deemed to be a mild illness and symptoms usually resolve within 48 hours.

However, it is highly advised to make an immediate hospital visit should croup develop to the point that jeopardizes the ability to breathe or if you notice any of these severe symptoms:

  • Croup lasting longer than three to five days
  • A fever ranging past 103.5F
  • High pitched whistling sounds during respiration
  • Any condition that makes swallowing difficult
  • Purplish or bluish discoloration of the skin, lips or fingernails

How Is Croup Treated?

Mild cases of croup rarely require hospitalization and can be managed at home. Over-the-counter pain relievers can be used to lessen the discomfort and pain in affected areas, while cool mist humidifiers are usually recommended to promote more comfortable breathing.

Aside from this, corticosteroids are the primary treatment of choice for croup and are known to bring desired results regardless of the severity. A single administration of oral dexamethasone can improve the symptoms of mild croup.

Also, epinephrine delivered through a nebulizer can provide temporary relief from airway obstruction. Depending on the agent responsible for croup, appropriate antimicrobial or antiviral drugs may also be prescribed.

As a safety reminder, always seek expert advice before trying out any form of self-medication. When left untreated, croup can lead to a lack of oxygen intake, which eventually leads to respiratory arrest. If your child experiences serious symptoms, it is imperative to bring them immediately to the nearest healthcare facility.

In severe cases of croup, doctors may prescribe an extended use of steroid-based medication for treatment. For extreme cases, artificial oxygen supply may also be required, as well as intravenous fluids should dehydration already be present.