Skip to Main Content

Seek Quick Care for Croup

April 04, 2022 Posted in: Pediatrics

Croup is a respiratory illness caused by the parainfluenza virus (a cousin of the flu) and can affect anyone from infancy through adulthood. The condition causes inflammation in the back of the throat, windpipe and upper portion of the lungs. It’s more dangerous for younger children, particularly those under school age, because the complications of croup can cause swelling in the back of the throat that can nearly close it off. This means a baby or toddler isn’t getting enough oxygen.

Most people quickly recognize the most common symptom of croup – a very barky, hoarse cough that sounds like a dog or a seal. Children who have the croup can also sound like a frog when they talk. Adults may develop laryngitis from the croup, but it’s not nearly as dangerous because of the larger diameter of their airway.

More worrisome symptoms of the croup are chest congestion, high fever up to 103 degree F, and strider. Strider is the high-pitched, squeaking or whistling sound a person makes when they breath in from their throat and don’t get enough air. It’s a very harsh and loud sound caused by the obstructed airway. Babies with strider tend to have retractions (where the muscles under, above or between the rib cage tighten with every breath), along with being lethargic or be difficult to wake up.

With croup, the infection isn’t down deep in the lungs – it’s in the windpipe area. When you hear the high-pitched sound, you know the restriction is at the top of the throat going down into the lungs. This is different from other lung related diseases because it can become an emergency very quickly.

Effective Treatment

Symptoms of the croup are often worse at nighttime. The best treatments for mild to moderate cases of croup (with no difficulty breathing) are a cool mist humidifier, cold air from the freezer or going outside. If your child has croup in the fall or winter, wrap up in a blanket and sit on the porch and breathe in the night air. This can make a surprisingly big difference in symptoms. If this doesn’t help resolve them, the next step is to see your pediatrician for a dose of steroids.

Decadron is the treatment of choice – given by shot or as a drink in the office. One dose lasts about five days in the body. Steroids open the airways, reduce swelling in the throat so air can move through more easily. In most cases, this helps patients get through the worst of the illness, which is the first five to seven days.

Unlike the common cold or other respiratory conditions, I counsel my patients to be aggressive in the treatment for croup. My own child once went to bed with a little cough and woke up with very bad strider and was completely lethargic. There was nothing I could do at home but go straight to the emergency room. When symptoms are worsening, it’s important to get the steroids early – which can help prevent an emergency room visit. The steroids can often address the symptoms long enough for the body to fight off the viral infection.  

All in all, the hard barking sound associated with croup lasts about a week and a few weeks more for the leftover cough and congestion to subside. During this time, it’s a good idea to practice good handwashing and masking to help prevent spreading the virus to someone else.

CHI Memorial Pediatric Diagnostic Associates treat infants and young adults up to 21 years of age (must be an established patient prior to turning 18), and welcomes new patients. To schedule an appointment, call (423) 698-2229.

News/blogs Dynamic Tiles Heading

What You Need to Know About RSV

MAR 23, 2022

Respiratory Syncytial Virus, commonly referred to as RSV, is a potentially dangerous breathing condition that primarily affects infants and young children.

Read More

Feeding Your Baby: A Solid Foods Primer

OCT 28, 2020

Many first-time parents have questions about when to introduce solid foods and what foods are appropriate to give your infant at what stages.

Read More

Flu Shots for Kids

OCT 20, 2020

Influenza or “flu” can be dangerous especially for young children. There’s an increased rate of hospitalizations, severe illness and death for healthy children five years and younger and even more so for children under age two.

Read More