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It doesn’t take reading numerous parenting books to know that if your child has a barking cough and is making a wheezing sound, it isn’t good.
Often times, these signs mean your child has croup.
What is croup? Croup is swelling of the larynx and trachea that narrows your child’s air passageways (source).
Croup is triggered by infections (usually a virus). Once your child’s body responds to an infection in this way, your little one is much more likely to have croup again the next time he/she catches a cold.
Though I’ve been around the croup block at least five times now, it’s always scary.
My littlest, who is two years old, comes down with croup every time she catches a cold. It’s become predictable, but still, I hate it.
As soon as I hear that terrible coughing at night (which is usually when it starts), the fear curls up in my stomach like a snake as I race up the stairs trying to soothe her before she gets too worked up and her airways constrict further.
If your child has a deep, hoarse cough and wheezing, your child may have croup– It sounds like a barking seal.
A visit to your pediatrician is always recommended to get a diagnosis and medication, if appropriate.
How to help your child feel better
These home measures won’t make croup go away, but they will ease the symptoms and your child’s discomfort while your little one’s body fights off the cold.
Keep your child as happy as possible
Do your best to keep your baby from getting upset and crying.
Crying constricts the airways and worsens breathing difficulties.
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.
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
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
Last 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 machine 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.