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It doesn’t take reading numerous parenting books to know that if your child has a barking cough, fever, and/or difficulties breathing, it isn’t good.
Often times, these symptoms may mean your child has croup.
Though I’ve been around the croup block at least five times now, it’s always scary.
What is croup?
Croup is an infection of the upper airway that commonly occurs in children. More specifically, it’s the swelling of the voice box, windpipe, and bronchial tubes– usually caused by a virus (source).
My youngest used to come down with croup every time she had a cold. It was predictable, but still, I hated it.
As soon as I’d hear that terrible coughing at night (which is usually when it starts), the fear would curl up in my stomach like a snake as I’d race up the stairs trying to soothe her before she got too worked up (see below why it’s important to keep your child as calm and happy as possible when they have the Croup).
What does Croup sound like?
If your child has a deep, hoarse cough, it may be Croup.
Noisy breathing may also be a symptom.
You may have heard that Croup sounds like a “barking seal,” but if you’re still not sure what that means, this article has several audio clips you can listen to that will give you more of an idea as to what Croup actually sounds like.
Just remember– A visit to your pediatrician is always recommended to get a proper diagnosis and medication, if appropriate.
How to help your child feel better
These home measures won’t make croup go away, but they will help ease the symptoms and your child’s discomfort while your little one fights off the infection.
Disclaimer: The following remedies are what have worked for us personally. Always check with your pediatrician first or if you have any questions or concerns.
Keep your child as happy as possible
Do your best to keep your baby or toddler from getting upset and crying.
This is important because crying constricts the airways and worsens breathing difficulties.
Cartoons, singing shows, lullabies– Anything to keep your child happy until this passes.
Because croup flares up at night, I give my daughter a dose of children’s ibuprofen about 30-60 minutes before bedtime. This helps reduce inflammation.
You could also do this during the day, but abide by dosing instructions on the package or check with your pediatrician if you are unsure.
I also put a cold-mist humidifier in her room at full-steam power and leave it running all night long with the bedroom door closed.
The humid, cold air helps relax airways.
Keep your child warm, but not too warm
Becoming overheated can also exacerbate croup.
It’s best to keep your little one warm, but not too hot.
Most importantly– Don’t wait to seek medical attention for croup.
If you’re concerned about your child’s breathing, you should seek immediate medical attention.
This Dr. Sears article on croup gives you a good idea on when to treat at home and when it’s time to head to the ER.
When croup becomes an emergency
One particular Thanksgiving, we had to take my youngest child to urgent care because her breathing was so labored.
We couldn’t calm her down and she was drooling, which meant she was having trouble swallowing.
The medical staff measured the level of oxygen in her blood (with a sensor that went around her finger– similar to how blood pressure is taken).
The staff walked on eggshells to avoid making her cry and gave us a nebulizer– a small machine that directs medicated steam toward the nostrils-– to use on her until her oxygen levels returned to normal.
They sent us home with a liquid steroid treatment to further reduce the inflammation.
In addition to receiving the steroid medication at urgent care, we’ve also had it prescribed by our pediatrician.
Honestly, it kicks croup booty overnight and lets everyone sleep better.
Bottom line: While home measures can offer some level of comfort, it’s not a substitute for medical care.
If your baby or toddler is ever struggling to breathe, you need to see a doctor immediately– whether that’s your normal pediatrician, at an urgent care center, or at a hospital emergency room.
A doctor can determine if it’s croup or something else and provide the medication or tools (e.g. a take-home nebulizer) that can settle your child’s breathing.
Croup is a frightening experience for both you and your child. But good medical care, a comfy home and lots of TLC will quickly get your little one on the road to recovery.