Most cases of croup are caused by viruses, usually parainfluenza virus and sometimes adenovirus or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Viral croup is most common — and symptoms are most severe — in children 6 months to 3 years old, but can affect older kids too. Some children are more prone to developing croup when they get a viral upper respiratory infection.
Most cases of viral croup are mild and can be treated at home. Rarely, croup can be severe and even life threatening.
The term spasmodic croup refers to a type of croup that develops quickly and may happen in a child with a mild cold. The barking cough usually begins at night and is not accompanied by fever. Spasmodic croup has a tendency to come back again (recur).
Treatment of symptoms is the same for either form of croup.
Signs and Symptoms
At first, a child may have cold symptoms, like a stuffy or runny nose and a fever. As the upper airway (the lining of the windpipe and the voice box) becomes more inflamed and swollen, the child may become hoarse, with a harsh, barking cough. This loud cough, which is characteristic of croup, often sounds like the barking of a seal.
If the upper airway continues to swell, it becomes even more difficult for a child to breathe, and you may hear a high-pitched or squeaking noise during inhalation (called stridor). A child also might breathe very fast or have retractions (when the skin between the ribs pulls in during breathing). In the most serious cases, a child may appear pale or have a bluish color around the mouth due to a lack of oxygen.
Symptoms of croup are often worse at night and when children are upset or crying. Besides the effects on the upper airway, the viruses that cause croup can cause inflammation farther down the airway and affect the bronchi (large breathing tubes that connect to the windpipe).
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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