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Croup is a childhood illness that is caused by the same viruses that cause the common cold and infect the upper airways.
Infants and toddlers between six months and three years of age are at most risk of getting croup – but children who are younger or older can also get it.
Children with croup can become seriously ill.
- If your child has croup, they’ll probably have the symptoms of a cold for a few days, then develop a seal-like barky cough, hoarseness and noisy breathing.
- Croup usually lasts for five to six days and is more common in colder weather.
Many children who come in contact with the viruses that cause croup will not get croup, but will just have symptoms of a cold.
There are two types of croup: viral and spasmodic.
- This begins with a cold that develops into a barky cough.
- The child’s airway will swell, making breathing noisy and more difficult.
- Your child may have a temperature as high as 40 degrees Celsius.
The greatest danger is if your child’s windpipe swells so much that they cannot breathe.
This type of croup causes spasms that occur during the night and early morning.
EpiglottitisYour child will wake up, gasping for breath, within a few hours of going to bed.
This is a form of croup caused by Haemophilus influenzae (Hib). It is now rare due to immunisation, but can be very serious. It may look similar to croup, but the child may look unwell and feverish.
- During the spasms, you’ll hear hoarseness and a barky cough.
- You might also hear a rasping noise (called ‘stridor’) when your child breathes in.
The spasms usually don’t occur during the day – and your child may seem better in their breathing and hoarseness during the day as well.
When croup is serious
Take your child to the nearest emergency department or call 111 immediately if:
- they seem to be struggling to breathe (worse than the noisy breathing)
- they appear extremely anxious or frightened, or look blue
- they’re dribbling and cannot swallow
- they cannot speak
- their chest sinks in when trying to breathe in
- they make a whistling or crowing sound while breathing in.
Croup spasms in the night
If your child has croup spasms in the night, this may help:
- Run hot water in the shower or bath to steam up the bathroom.
- Take your child into the bathroom and close the door.
- Cuddle your child in your lap. Keep them calm by reading a story.
The warm, humidified air should ease their breathing within 15 to 20 minutes. The croupy cough will still exist – repeat this for each croup spasm during the night.
If the steamy bathroom session doesn’t work, and the outside temperature is cool, take your child outdoors for a few minutes. Inhaling the cold, moist night air may loosen up their air passages and help them breathe more easily.
Keep the child calm and don’t panic. If your child has serious croup and needs to go to hospital, it is safest to go by ambulance.
- Don’t overheat your child’s bedroom.
- Use a cool mist humidifier or vaporiser in your child's room.
- Reduce the dairy products in your child’s diet (milk, ice cream, cheese, yoghurt).
- Don’t let anyone smoke around your child.
Call Healthline 0800 611 116 if you are unsure what you should do.
How croup spreads
- Croup is contagious (catching) for four to six days.
- It spreads through the air when people with croup sneeze or cough.
Immunisation against Haemophilus influenzae (Hib) significantly reduces the risk of epiglottitis.
Keep your child at home and away from other children and adults if they’re coughing or sneezing.
Your child can return to day care or school after the fever is gone and they’re feeling better.