Parenting in the Early Years


Croup is a common respiratory illness in children that can occur suddenly and be quite alarming. It can easily be identified by its distinct cough that sounds like a barking seal.

If it is severe, your child will be struggling to breathe. 

Croup is usually a viral infection that causes swelling around the voice box and in the large airway called the trachea. In adults the airway is larger and the swelling causes a loss of the voice, called laryngitis.

Younger children have smaller airways and the swelling causes the croupy cough and often causes breathing difficulty. Croup tends to have a sudden onset and is usually worse at night. It usually lasts about 3 to 5 days, with the first 2 to 3 nights being the worst. A mild runny nose and a fever may also be present.

How Serious Is It? 

If your child is happy and eating, you can relax. In more severe cases of croup, your child will be struggling for air and appear distressed. A whistling type noise, called stridor, will be heard when your child breathes in, and sucking in of the chest may be seen. In rare instances it can be life threatening.

Signs of Serious Illness

  • High fever 
  • Poor feeding 
  • Increased irritability 
  • Inability to get your baby's attention 
  • Anxious appearance 
  • Excessive drooling 
  • Pale or blue color 
  • Working hard to breathe with skin pulling between the ribs 
  • Worsening cough


Use a room vaporizer. Be sure to clean it thoroughly so it doesn’t throw bacteria and molds into the air.

If your child is breathing noisily, take her into the bathroom and run the hot water in the shower or tub for twenty minutes, making the bathroom very steamy. Allow her to sit on your lap and inhale the vapors.

If this does not make your child breath easier, bundle her up and take her outside to breathe the cold night air. Often this change in temperature will break the croup cycle.

Call the doctor’s office at this point and let the doctor know you are having problems. If your child continues to have problems breathing, she will need to be taken to the emergency room for further treatment or admission. A steroid given by shot or mouth can be very helpful in reducing the severity of croup.

Infections that Mimic Croup 

There are serious bacterial infections called epiglottitis or bacterial tracheitis that start with croup-like symptoms. These children look ill, have a high fever and may be struggling for air. They often have difficulty talking and swallowing their saliva. Their illness progresses rapidly and demands immediate medical attention.