Inflammation and narrowing of the main airway (trachea) due to a viral infection

  • Most common between the ages of 6 months and 3 years
  • Slightly more common in boys
  • Genetics and lifestyle are not significant factors

Croup is a common disorder that usually affects children between the ages of 6 months and 3 years. During an attack of croup, the airway that leads from the back of the throat to the lungs becomes inflamed because of a viral infection, restricting the flow of air and causing noisy breathing. Although symptoms are usually mild, croup may occasionally cause severe breathing difficulties that require treatment in hospital. Boys appear to be more susceptible to the condition, but the reason for this is not known. Croup occurs more frequently in the autumn and winter months.

What are the symptoms?

Croup usually begins with the symptoms of a common cold, such as a runny nose. About 1–2 days later, the following symptoms may develop:

  • Barking cough.

  • Harsh, noisy breathing, particularly when inhaling.

  • Hoarseness.

In severe cases, breathing may become rapid and difficult. This may cause a lack of oxygen and lead to the development of a bluish colour to the tongue and lips, a condition called cyanosis. If cyanosis develops, you should call an ambulance immediately.

What might be done?

The doctor will probably diagnose croup from the symptoms. He or she will assess the severity of your child’s condition and may suggest self-help measures to ease your child’s breathing. For example, sitting with your child in a steamy bathroom can relieve minor breathing difficulties. You can increase the humidity in your child’s room by placing a dish of water near a source of heat, such as a radiator. Taking your child outside in the cool night air for a few minutes may also help to ease your child’s breathing. The doctor may prescribe an inhaled or oral corticosteroid drug (see Corticosteroids for respiratory disease) to reduce inflammation in the airways. If the symptoms are very severe, your child will need to be admitted to hospital. In rare cases, mechanical ventilation may also be necessary.

What is the prognosis?

Most children with croup recover completely within a few days. However, the condition may recur until your child reaches about the age of 5. At this age, the airways are wider and therefore less likely to become severely narrowed by inflammation after an infection.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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