A harsh, barking cough is a distinctive sign of croup, a common respiratory problem in young children. Another distinctive sign is stridor, a high-pitched, ‘squeaking’ sound when a child breathes in.

What is croup?

Croup is usually caused by a viral infection and can develop from a common cold. “Croup is usually a mild illness and most children can recover at home with rest and proper care,” says Dr Petrina Wong, Associate Consultant, Respiratory Medicine Service, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), a member of the SingHealth group.

In croup, the voice box (larynx) and windpipe (trachea) become swollen and inflamed. This causes narrowing of the upper airways, which affects the child’s breathing and produces a cough. Croup usually lasts for 3 to 7 days.

Causes and risk factors for croup

Croup is usually caused by the parainfluenza virus, though other viruses have been known to trigger it. Children aged 6 months to 3 years are particularly susceptible to croup. The symptoms of croup are usually worse in children below the age of 3 because they have smaller airways.

“Children can pick up a viral infection from contaminated surfaces, including toys, or by breathing in viruses in the air,” says Dr Wong. Frequent hand washing and avoiding contact with people who are ill can prevent croup infection.

Symptoms of croup

The symptoms of croup, which generally get aggravated at night and when the child is agitated and crying, include the following:

  • Barking cough which sounds like the bark of a seal
  • Stridor
  • Hoarse voice
  • Fever

“Stridor occurs as the opening between the vocal cords becomes narrower. Stridor is usually more obvious with crying or coughing initially, but can occur during sleep and at rest when the illness worsens subsequently,” says Dr Wong.

A doctor will diagnose croup after a physical examination that includes examining your child’s throat and observing the breathing.

Read on to learn more about the complications and treatments available for croup, as well as tips for parents.

Ref: R14