A viral INFECTION of the upper respiratory tract that produces a characteristic barking COUGH, most commonly in children under age three. Other symptoms include rapid BREATHING, a highpitched noise with inhalation (stridor), and FEVER. In many children, the top of the airway at the back of the THROAT becomes swollen and congested, reducing the flow of air. The barking cough results from air being forced through this narrowed passage as the body attempts to clear the congestion of the infection. Croup often follows COLDS and its symptoms tend to worsen at night. The most effective treatment is prompt exposure to moist air. Parents often find that as soon as they get the child buckled into the car seat for the late-night trip to the hospital emergency room, coughing lessens and breathing eases. The cool night air helps open the airways. Often it brings the child relief to sit, wrapped in a blanket for warmth, with a parent in the night air for a few minutes. An alternative method is to turn on a hot shower and close the bathroom door so the bathroom fills with steam, then sit with the child in the steam.
The child needs immediate medical attention when symptoms
- last longer than three days
- include a fever higher than 102ºF
- suggest that the child is not getting enough oxygen, such as CYANOSIS (blue lips)
- include excessive drooling
Though frightening for parents, croup is most often self-limiting and has few complications. Because croup is viral, ANTIBIOTIC MEDICATIONS do not bring about any improvement in symptoms. And, being viral, croup is contagious, spread through droplets in the air from coughing as well as by hand contact.