Croup Cough


What is Croup Cough?


Croup is an upper respiratory condition, most commonly found in babies and toddlers, that causes swelling in the vocal chords and breathing passages.

This swelling in the windpipe and larynx causes two distinctive sounds:

  1. Barking Cough:  This barking cough sounds similar to a barking seal or a barking dog and is usually worse at night.  This barking sound happens while coughing because it is difficult to get air out of the narrow passage in the airways due to the swelling and inflammation.
  2. Stridor: Stridor occurs in the more severe cases of croup and is a high pitch sound that is made when the child breathes in usually when coughing or crying.  As the croup worsens stridor can also occur while the child is relaxed or sleeping.  Stridor occurs as a result of the narrowing of the opening in the larynx between the vocal chords.

What Causes Croup?

Croup is triggered by various viral infections, usually parainfluenza virus (this is not a flu virus but a virus that causes cold symptoms). Croup cough can be preceded by typical cold symptoms but often comes on suddenly with no previous symptoms.  The distinctive barking cough is many times the first symptom and typically occurs in the middle of the night.

Dr. David Allen, a board certified pediatrician, describes causes of croup as well as other helpful information for those caring for a child with croup.


Typical Croup Age Range…

Croup typically affects children under 5 years of age; however, it is most likely to occur in children between the ages of 3 months and 3 years.


Can Adults Get Croup?

In rare instances adults can get croup.  Adults are not susceptible to croup in the same way as young children because even though inflammation and swelling may be present, adults have larger airway passages that will not narrow to the same extent as in children.


Croup Cough Symptoms

  • Barking Cough
  • Hoarse Voice
  • Difficulty Breathing / Labored Breathing
  • Stridor
  • Wheezing
  • Fever
  • Problems Swallowing


Contact your pediatrician within 24 hours if the following symptoms are present:

  • Stridor more than 3 occurrences
  • Fever over 104°
  • Worsening cough spasms
  • Child not drinking much fluid


Immediately contact your pediatrician if the following symptoms are present:
The following symptoms are extremely serious and indicate respiratory difficulty. Any of these symptoms mean that the airway passages have become so narrow that the child is having a hard time breathing.

  • Labored breathing, especially if you see retractions between the ribs
  • Drooling or spitting
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Blue or dusky tint to lips
  • Stridor continues more 20 minutes without responding to steam treatment



Is Croup Dangerous?

While croup is a potentially serious condition and on rare occasions it can be life threatening; however, in most cases it isn’t usually dangerous. Warning signs to watch for are any indications of breathing difficulty as explained in the paragraph above.  Younger infants are most at risk because their air passageways are still very narrow.


How Long Does Croup Last?

Croup commonly lasts up to 6 days, with the worst symptoms occurring  during the first 2 or 3 days. Many children will experience a lingering cough for another few days.  Severe cases of croup can last several weeks, although this is rare.


What Does a Croup Cough Sound Like?

In the video clip below you can hear an example of what croup sounds like as The Doctors play a clip of a baby with croup.


Is Croup Contagious?

Croup is highly contagious when fever is present and/or during the first three days of the virus. It is transmitted by airborne germs through coughs, runny noses, as well as by touching contaminated surfaces.



What’s the difference between croup & whooping cough?

Croup is a viral disorder and whooping cough is bacterial.



How Is Croup Diagnosed?

Your pediatrician can diagnose croup through an examination in his office.  Watch the video below for one mom’s experience and how she learned about croup with her two daughters.


Croup Cough Treatment

In order to best treat a croup cough the initial goal is  need to get rid of the swelling in the windpipe.   Additionally, in the early stages of croup, a cough suppressant may be helpful to ease the cough.  Later, as the croup cough progresses into a productive cough, you will want to use a cough expectorant or a combination cough suppressant / expectorant.

As you probably are aware, over the counter cough medicines and syrups are no longer considered safe for use by young children unless under a doctor’s supervision.


Croup Treatment By Your Pediatrician
Most often the doctor will not recommend any medications or treatments when a child has croup.  In some, more severe cases of croup, the doctor may prescribe a steroid to help reduce swelling and open up the airways.  The type of steroids used for children with croup are safe to use and many doctors will only prescribe one dose. Depending on the child’s condition the doctor may have the child use steroids for up to 2 to 4 days.


Croup Cough Treatment At Home
For most cases of croup cough doctors will recommend the following home remedies:

  • Steam / moist air – A quick and effective way to help calm a croup cough, which also happens to be one of the first things the doctor will recommend, is to sit in a steamy bathroom with the hot water running in the shower or tub.  A vaporizer or humidifier will also serve the same purpose as well.
  • Cold Air – If the weather is chilly, the doctor may also recommend breathing the cold air for approximately 15 to 20 minutes. The cold air works in a similar fashion to ice on a swollen injury by helping to reduce swelling of the windpipe instead.
  • Vitamin C – Increasing the intake of Vitamin C is recommended for respiratory infections such as croup.  This can be done through food sources rich in Vitamin C or by using a supplement.  There are numerous Vitamin C products that come n liquid form that are easy to use and safe for babies.
  • Chicken Soup / Chicken Broth – This old fashioned remedy has stood the test of time and has been proven as an effective treatment in a scientific study.
  • Keep the child calm – The reason this is important is that when a child with croup cries, coughs, or becomes excited or scared, the already swollen air passages can become more irritated thus narrowing the passageways even more.
  • Fluids – It is important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.  Water will help prevent dehydration if there is fever present.  Water will also help to keep the airways from being too dry.  Additionally, when the croup cough transitions from a dry cough to a productive cough, water will serve as a natural expectorant that will thin and loosen the mucus membranes and help to get rid of mucus.
  • Rest – Getting lots of rest enables the body to have the needed strength to fight off infection.



More Home Remedies For Cough
Home Remedies For Cough
Baby Cough
Kids & Toddler Cough


Do Antibiotics Help Croup?
No.  Antibiotics do not help croup because it is a viral condition.  Viruses do not respond to antibiotics.  Antibiotics are used for bacterial infections.

North Augusta Pediatrics / Dr. David Allen

Lamorinda Pediatrics – Croup Information & Care

6 Responses to “Croup Cough”

  1. Jonathan says:

    My toddler has had croup twice. How many times do kids get croup?

    • Lee says:

      It’s not uncommon for some children to be more susceptible to croup and to have several bouts of croup in the same year. While that’s not the norm, it can happen. One possible reason is that since croup can be caused by a number of different viruses, so if a child that’s susceptible to croup comes down with more than one of these viruses it’s likely it may develop into croup.

      However, if your child has croup several times in a year you should see the doctor to check for asthma or any other underlying causes.

  2. Amanda says:

    Last week, my girl started coughing nonstop, the cough was different to others that she had, we got really worried and drove to the closest hospital. The doctor told us that it was Croup. After 4 days, she was fine and back to normal but I now have to take her for more tests. Hopefully, the croup doesn’t come back.

    • Lee says:

      You did the right thing in taking your daughter to the hospital, sometimes a child with croup will need oxygen and/or a one-time dose of steroids to help with the swollen airways.

      Doctors will sometimes request further testing to make sure there is nothing else going on, for example asthma or on rare occasions a bacterial infection in the lungs or windpipe.

      And yes, hopefully she won’t get croup again! Most children don’t get it more than once, but since croup can be caused by more than one virus it’s not uncommon for some children to come down with croup again.

  3. Lorraine says:

    Can antibiotics help croup?

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