Croup

Overview

What is croup?

Croup is a respiratory infection that affects children, mainly during the fall and winter months. It affects children under age 5, and symptoms are most severe in children under age 3. Croup may last from 5 to 6 days, depending on the severity of the infection. It may have other complications, such as ear infection or pneumonia.

Symptoms and Causes

What causes croup?

Croup is most commonly caused by viruses such as influenza, parainfluenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), measles, and adenovirus. This infection causes the upper airways to swell, making it difficult to breathe. Rarely, bacteria can complicate the viral infection and makes it more difficult to breathe.

What are the symptoms of croup?

  • A harsh or "barky" cough
  • Stridor (harsh, raspy vibrating sound when breathing in)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty bending the neck
  • Fever, which may be high
  • Restlessness or nervousness at night or when it becomes harder to breathe

Diagnosis and Tests

How can I tell if my child has croup?

Although there are recognizable signs of croup, any illness that makes it difficult for your child to breathe should be evaluated by your child's doctor. A barky or “seal-like” cough is most common, along with stridor.

Management and Treatment

If my child has croup, how can I care for him or her at home?

  • A cool mist vaporizer may help soothe dry and irritated airways. Your doctor may recommend a vaporizer.
  • Allow your child to rest as needed.
  • Call the doctor if your child's symptoms worsen or begin to return.
  • Cough medicines are usually not helpful and not recommended.
  • Do not allow anyone to smoke around your child or in your home.
  • Give your child all medicines as instructed by the doctor.

When a child has a severe case of croup and has to go to the hospital, care may include the following:

  • Breathing treatments (aerosols or inhalations)
  • A cool mist tent
  • Rest
  • Medications given by mouth
  • Medications given intravenously (IV)
  • Medications given by injection (shot)

Prevention

How can the spread of croup be prevented?

Croup can by spread by physical contact or through the air. To help prevent its spread:

  • Wash and dry your hands thoroughly after caring for your child.
  • Try washing toys between each use.
  • Encourage your child to cover his or her mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing.
  • Keep your child home from school or daycare when he or she is ill or if outbreaks occur.
  • Throw used tissues away.

Living With

What questions should you ask your child's doctor about croup?

  • Should I give my child medication? If so, for how long and at what times of the day?
  • How should I store the medication? Should I refrigerate it?
  • When will my child start to feel better?
  • Will I need to bring my child back for a follow-up visit?
  • Should I keep my child home from school or daycare?
  • Should he or she be limited from certain activities? If so, which ones?
  • Are there certain foods or liquids he or she should have or avoid?
  • Which over-the-counter pain relievers do you recommend?
  • Which over-the-counter medications/preparations do you not recommend?
  • Which symptoms should I report to you/your office?

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/17/2019.

References

  • American Academy of Family Physicians. Croup. (https://familydoctor.org/condition/croup/) Accessed 9/26/2019.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About Human Parainfluenza Viruses (HPIVS). (https://www.cdc.gov/parainfluenza/about/index.html) Accessed 9/26/2019.
  • American Academy of Pediatrics. Croup. (https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/chest-lungs/Pages/Croup-Treatment.aspx) Accessed 9/26/2019.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy