What Is Croup? Basic Facts About This Childhood Disease

young girl holding her throat

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  • Croup is an infection of the upper airway of the lung that obstructs breathing, triggering a cough (called “croup cough”) that sounds like a barking seal
  • There might also be a secondary infection after the initial viral infection that caused croup, which can lead to either pneumonia or bacterial tracheitis

Croup is an infection of the upper airway of the lung that obstructs breathing, triggering a cough (called “croup cough”) that sounds like a barking seal. Also called laryngo-tracheo-bronchitis,1 this disease usually manifests in younger children. It isn’t very serious though, as most cases can be treated at home.2

What Are the Potential Complications of a Croup Cough?

Croup cough may clear up within 48 hours, although some children can still have symptoms for up to two weeks.3 If the child isn’t treated promptly for an obstructed airway, complications like respiratory distress (severe breathing difficulty), respiratory arrest (breathing stops but the heart continues beating) or lymphadenitis (an infection of the lymph nodes or glands of the immune system) could occur.4

There might also be a secondary infection after the initial viral infection that caused croup, which can  lead to either pneumonia (a chest infection that triggers tissue swelling in one or both lungs) or bacterial tracheitis5 (a serious and risky infection that develops in the trachea or windpipe.6

A child may also experience difficulty drinking fluids if he or she has an obstructed airway. As such, do not force the child to drink fluids if it causes discomfort, since it could worsen the condition. However, it is highly advisable to ensure that child drinks fluids from time to time (although not necessarily in big gulps) to avoid dehydration.7 The good news is that the death risk for croup is quite low. It’s extremely rare for a child to die from this disease.8

Don't Confuse Croup With These Diseases

Although croup has distinct symptoms, this disease can sometimes be confused with two other illnesses:

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV): This is a lung infection common in toddlers aged birth to 2 years old, but can appear in older children too.9

RSV begins like the common cold, with the child having a runny nose and mild fever. RSV patients experience rapid breathing and coughing, with no distinct sound, unlike in croup. Other indicators include worsened irritability and the occurrence of a wheezing sound when coughing or trying to breathe.

Whooping cough: Also called pertussis, whooping cough is caused by a contagious bacterial infection that mainly affects the child's lungs, bronchial tubes and larynx. A child infected with this disease makes a "whooping" noise when coughing, versus croup, which makes the child sound like a barking seal.

Just like RSV, whooping cough begins as a regular cold. Patients will first experience a runny or stuffy nose, but as the condition progresses, a forceful coughing with the whooping sound will manifest, as well as other symptoms such as fever, loss of appetite or irritability.10

MORE ABOUT CROUP

Croup: an Introduction

What Is Croup?

Is Croup Contagious?

Croup in Adults

Croup Symptoms

Croup Causes

Types of Croup

Croup Treatment

Essential Oils for Croup

Croup Prevention

Croup FAQ


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