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Croup: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Croup is a viral respiratory infection that affects the larynx and trachea, leading to inflammation and difficulty breathing. It is most common in children between the ages of six months and three years old, although it can occur in older children and uncommonly in adults as well. In this article, we will discuss what causes croup, its symptoms, and how it can be treated both at home and in the emergency room.

Causes of Croup 

Croup is most commonly caused by a viral infection, usually the parainfluenza virus. However, other viruses such as influenza, adenovirus, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) can also cause croup. The infection causes inflammation in the upper respiratory tract, specifically the larynx and trachea, which can make breathing difficult.

Causes of croup. Credit:

Symptoms of Croup

The symptoms of croup often start out like those of a cold, including a runny nose, cough, and fever. However, as the infection progresses, the child may develop a harsh, barking cough, and a hoarse or raspy voice. The child may also have difficulty breathing, which can cause a high-pitched wheezing sound with inhalation, known as stridor. These symptoms are usually worse at night and can be frightening for both the child and the parents.

Treating Croup at Home

While croup can be a serious condition, mild cases can often be treated at home. Here are some things you can do to help your child feel more comfortable:

  • Use a cool-mist humidifier in your child’s bedroom to help relieve their cough and ease breathing.
  • Create a steamy environment by being in a closed bathroom with the shower on very high heat, as long as you are careful to not expose your child to the hot water itself.
  • Keep your child hydrated by encouraging them to drink fluids, such as water or juice.
  • Use over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, to reduce fever and discomfort.
  • You can try taking them outside into the cool night air. The change in temperature can help reduce inflammation and make breathing easier.

When to Seek Emergency Care 

If the above recommendations are not effective or if your child is having difficulty breathing or seems to be struggling to get air, you should seek emergency medical care immediately. This can be a sign of a severe case of croup and may require more intensive treatment. Emergency medical treatment may include the following:

  • Oxygen therapy to help your child breathe easier.
  • Nebulized epinephrine to reduce inflammation and open up the airways.
  • Corticosteroids to help reduce inflammation and swelling in the airway.


Croup can be a scary experience for both children and parents. However, with proper care and treatment, most cases of croup can be managed at home. If your child is having difficulty breathing or seems to be struggling to get air, seek emergency medical care right away. With prompt and appropriate treatment, most children with croup will make a full recovery.

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