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If your child has a cough like a barking seal, she may have croup. Learn more about the signs of croup, how to keep your baby comfortable at home, and when to see a doctor.
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Croup in babies
If your child has ever had croup, you won't forget the sound of her barking like a seal. Croup is swelling of the voice box – or larynx – and windpipe, or trachea. It can be caused by many different germs – both bacteria or viruses or even allergens – but most often it's caused by a virus called para influenza. Kids under 5 years old are more prone to croup, and we see most cases during the winter months.
If your child has croup, her cough will be very distinctive. It's a deep cough that sounds like a barking seal, kind of like this. … When she inhales or takes a breath in, she may make a horse whistling noise, which is called stridor. Stridor sounds like this. …
She may also have labored breathing. The cough usually appears a few days after mild cold symptoms, like congestion and runny nose. Often, she'll have a low fever and a hoarse voice. Croup is usually worse at night, so brace yourself for a few hard nights early on, but the symptoms resolve within a week.
The type of croup that is caused by a virus is contagious. It can spread to others through secretions from the nose or mouth when your child coughs, sneezes, or wipes her nose.
Call your doctor if you think your child has croup. Your doctor may want to see her in the office to check her breathing. If your child has stridor or labored breathing while resting, you should take her to the hospital. Call 911 right away if your child is struggling to breathe or turning blue.
Moist, humidified or cold air can reduce the swelling in the upper airways. I recommend taking your child into a steamy bathroom. You can turn on the shower or bath and run the hot water with the bathroom door closed. Or you can take her outside in the cold air for 15 to 20 minutes. Try a cool-mist humidifier or a vaporizer in your child's room to help with the cough. If she has a fever or has discomfort, your doctor may recommend a dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen at the correct dose according to her weight.
In the doctor's office, your doctor may treat croup with an oral or injectable dose of steroids to decrease the airway inflammation. If your child's croup is severe, she may need to be hospitalized to receive oxygen, inhaled medicines, IV steroids, and IV fluids. On the plus side, most kids outgrow croup, so they're much less likely to have it after they turn 5 years old.
Video production by Paige Bierma.