Emergency Department
Garrett Anderson Centre
Telephone: 01473 702035 or 702036

What do I need to know?

Croup is an infection that affects the voice box (larynx) and the airway to the lungs (trachea) making them inflamed.

Information about Croup

Croup is often caused by a virus (usually parainfluenza) and is more common during the winter months. It is spread through coughing and sneezing.

Croup usually affects young children (more often boys) between six months and three years of age, and can occur more than once. As children grow, their larger airways are less affected by the virus.

These are similar to a cold, such as a runny nose and a raised temperature.

One to four days after becoming infected, your child will develop a characteristic ‘seal-like’ barking cough.

This may include a hoarse or croaky voice, usually accompanied by a rasping sound when breathing in and some respiratory distress due to obstruction of the upper airways.

Croup is usually at its worst for 48 hours after the cough has started and generally gets better on its own over a number of days. However, a more ‘regular’ cough may continue and can last for a couple of weeks.

Most cases of croup do not need to be treated because the condition is usually self-limiting (gets better on its own). Only a small number of children need a short hospital admission.

Steroids may be given to reduce the swelling of the airways. You may be given one dose of steroids to take home.

There is not much that can be done to prevent croup because the infection is spread through infected droplets of moisture via coughs; and sneezes. Therefore, the condition can be easily transmitted from one person to another.

However, you should teach your child to practise good personal hygiene from an early age, such as washing their hands and always to cough and sneeze into a tissue, before discarding it immediately.

Medication, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, to reduce pain and lower a raised temperature, plus giving extra fluids, will help your child feel better.

If your child is upset and distressed it may make symptoms worse. Sleeping in a more upright position may help. Smoky environments should be avoided.

A steroid called dexamethasone may be given to help open up the airways.

A second dose is sometimes prescribed and can be given 12 hours after the first dose.

If you are concerned, please return to the Emergency Department or make an appointment to see your child’s GP.