Hearing the hacking cough produced by croup in the middle of the night can be scary for many parents. While the condition is most common before the age of three, an older child may experience the symptoms as well. At age five, your child is better able to tell you what is going on, making it easier to diagnose croup. In most cases, it is appropriate to treat the condition at home.
The cough that accompanies croup is the best indicator of the condition. If your 5-year-old has croup, his cough sounds like a seal barking. Some children experience symptoms of the common cold in the days prior to waking up with croup. The severity of the condition varies and some children will struggle for breath as they cough, particularly with long bouts. A fever below 104 degrees Fahrenheit often appears with croup as well. These symptoms generally appear at night when your child is lying down and go away during the waking hours.
If your 5-year-old wakes up with croup, expect to see the same symptoms for the following five or six days. The symptoms tend to diminish over time until the condition is gone. The first day or two of croup are generally the worst and are likely to cause lack of sleep throughout your household. Over the ensuing days, your child begins to sleep more and breathe easier during the night.
Pediatricians typically recommend home treatment for croup, which is caused by inflammation in your 5-year-old's airways. Methods for alleviating this condition are most beneficial for helping your child get back to sleep. Run a hot shower in your bathroom, filling it up with steam. Take your child into the bathroom, but not the shower, for about 10 minutes to help break up the congestion in her chest. If the coughing hasn't abated, take her outside in the cooler air for 10 to 15 minutes. This is particularly helpful during colder weather. Use a cool mist humidifier as an alternate if the outside air is warm. Offer your child warm fluids to help ease the inflammation. Try to keep your child comfortable since crying worsens symptoms. Give your 5-year-old an appropriate dose of acetaminophen for fever, but avoid cough medicine, which is not recommended for children at this age.
When to Call the Doctor
If your 5-year-old has never had croup, it is a good idea to call the after-hours number for his doctor. A nurse can give you tips for treatment and help you gauge whether your child needs medical care. If your child's fever spikes above 104 degrees, he drools or has trouble swallowing, shows signs of dehydration or develops a blue or gray tinge around his mouth and nose, call his pediatrician right away. Stridor is the most dangerous side effect of croup. If you can see your child's ribs as he breathes in or he makes a high-pitched sound with each inhalation, he might have stridor and is likely having a hard time breathing. Take him to the emergency room right away.