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Croup is a swelling of the lining of the larynx (voice box) that is caused by a virus. Your child will have a barky cough and his/her voice may be hoarse. When your child breathes in you may hear a high pitched rasping sound. It may come on quickly and usually gets worse at night. Croup is most common between the ages of two to five years. A child that has croup once may have it again and it may frequently be seen in other children in the family.

What you will see:

  • The muscles in the front of your child's neck pull in (retract).
  • Your child's chest may pull in when he/she breathes in.
  • Your child's face may be pale.
  • Your child may look scared.

This happens because your child cannot move air in and out of the lungs easily.

What you can do to help your child:

  1. Stay calm - Your child will be calmer if you stay calm. When your child is crying and upset, it will make the croup worse.
  2. Steam - Steam helps to relieve the tightness of the larynx and allows your child to breathe more easily. Turn on the hot water in the shower to make the bathroom steamy. Once it is filled with steam, take your child in and shut the door. Sit with your child on the floor or toilet while he/she breathes in the steam. Be sure to keep your child away from the hot water.
  3. Cool air/mist - Cool air often works better than steam. Sit outside in the cool air with your child or ride in the car with the windows open.
  4. Cool liquids - After 10-15 minutes, when breathing is easier for your child, you may give him/her cool, clear liquids such as water, ginger ale or a popsicle. Continue to give clear liquids to keep the throat moist.

Call your child’s doctor if:

  • Your child does not improve after being in a steamy bathroom or cool mist for 10-15 minutes.
  • Your child's breathing becomes more difficult; chest continues to pull in.
  • Your child begins to drool.
  • Your child has a problem swallowing.
  • Your child has a fever of 101.50F by mouth or rectally.
  • Your child turns blue at any time.

If your child needs to be in the hospital:

  • You will need to wash your hands before and after each contact with your child. Your child will also need to stay in their bed space and should not share toys or other items.
  • Medications may be used to help decrease swelling.
  • Your child's breathing will be easier if he/she remains calm.
  • If your child's breathing is normal, he/she will need to drink lots of fluids. Otherwise, your child may have an IV to make sure that he/she gets enough fluid.
  • The head of your child's bed will be elevated.
  • Your child may need oxygen.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your child's physician. The content provided on this page is for informational purposes only, and was not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your child's physician with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical condition.

Reviewed: 07/2008

(757) 668-7000