How Long Does Croup Last?

From Cold to Croup

Croup is a common childhood illness that causes a distinctive barking cough. Croup can usually be treated at home and most children recover within 3 to 5 days.

First your child develops a cold, with the usual runny nose and mild crankiness. Then, just when you think he might be getting better, it starts. That barking cough that sounds like a seal asking for fish. Once you've heard a croup cough, you'll never forget it. Although most cases of croup are not serious and children generally recover within three to five days, listening to that cough makes recovery seem to take much longer.

The Barking Cough

The hallmark sign of croup is the barking cough, which is caused by a viral infection in your child's voice box and windpipe. The viral infection causes the airways to swell and generally comes with a low fever, hoarse voice and noisy breathing. While the sound is alarming, most cases of croup are minor and can be treated at home. The best way to treat croup is to keep your child comfortable and calm so that he can breathe as easily as possible. Crying will further irritate the vocal cords. Try to get your child to drink clear, warm fluids such as formula, breast milk, or watered down juice to loosen mucus and prevent dehydration. If your child has a fever, treat it with acetaminophen or ibuprofen if your child is over 6 months old. Many people advise sitting in a steamy bathroom with your croupy child or running a cool mist humidifier, but there are no studies to prove this is effective. It is safe to do, though, if you find that it helps your child to breathe more easily.

Croup in Older Children

Although croup is most common in children aged 3 months to 5 years, older children can also get croup. Some children develop a croupy cough with any kind of cold or respiratory infection. Older children and even teens who have a compromised immune system can also be more prone to developing croup. If your older child or teen develops croup repeatedly, discuss this with your doctor so that you can make sure there is no underlying condition causing the croup. Remember that croup is about as contagious as the common cold, so wash your hands thoroughly to avoid spreading it.

Spasmodic Croup

Spasmodic croup is different than viral croup, in that it comes on without any warning. Children with spasmodic croup suddenly develop the barking cough, or wake in the middle of the night gasping for air. This type of croup generally does not cause a fever. Many doctors believe that spasmodic croup is caused by allergies or stomach reflux, since it can recur. The treatment and precautions for spasmodic croup are the same as for viral croup.

Time to Call the Doctor

It's never easy to listen to your child struggling to breathe, but remember that most cases of croup are mild and can be treated at home. Stridor, a high-pitched sound that happens when your child inhales, can be common if your child is active or playing while he has croup, but if you hear this sound while your child is resting, call your doctor. If your child seems to get worse rather than better, or if he struggles to breathe even when he is calm, let your doctor know. You should also call your doctor or go to urgent care if you see the area between his ribs pulling inward when he breathes, or if your child starts to turn blue, is difficult to awaken or starts to drool excessively. These are all signs that your child is struggling significantly to breathe or that he may need more than home treatments to help him get over croup.

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