What is it? What are the symptoms? What are the treatments?

What is croup?

Croup is a condition of the windpipe (trachea) and airways (bronchi ) that usually affects children aged between six months and three years.

There are two types of croup: viral and spasmodic. Viral croup is caused by an infection and clears up quickly, but spasmodic croup comes in repeated episodes without any accompanying infection. The treatment is the same for either type.

Croup 474

Children with croup have a cough that sounds more like a bark and they may make a rasping sound (known as 'stridor') when they breathe. All of this can sound quite alarming, but unless your child has severe difficulty breathing, there's usually no cause for worry. Croup often sounds a lot worse than it is.

What are the symptoms of Croup?

Symptoms include a barking cough; a rasping sound ('stridor') when breathing; sore throat; runny nose; cough; hoarseness and, sometimes, a raised temperature (above 38 degrees C). Your child may have a combination or all of the above, but will definitely have the cough.

What are the treatments and remedies of Croup?

Croup usually gets better on its own within a week, but in severe cases, a child may be admitted to hospital for treatment, so it's best to take your child to the GP for assessment if you are worried. If moderate croup is diagnosed, your GP may prescribe some corticosteroid medicine that helps reduce the inflammation in the windpipe and airways, making breathing easier. This can be given as tablets or via a nebuliser as an inhaled medication.

If your child doesn't need any medical treatment, there are things you can do at home to ease the symptoms. Try humidifying the bathroom by running the hot taps with the windows and door shut to create a sort of steam room. Then take your child into the bathroom and sit him upright in your lap. The warm steam acts in the same way as a vaporiser, making breathing a bit easier.

If he has a fever or his throat is sore, give him the appropriate dose of infant paracetamol or ibuprofen and get him to drink plenty of fluids.

Your child might become panicky if croup is interfering with his breathing, so it's important you reassure him that it will pass, and try to keep him calm.

This guide 

The information in this Bounty A-Z of Family Health is not a substitute for an examination, diagnosis or treatment by a doctor, midwife, health visitor or any other qualified health professional. If in doubt, always speak to a doctor.

Bounty will not be held responsible or liable for any injury, loss, damage, or illness, however this occurs or appears, after using the information given on this website and in particular the A-Z of Family Health.

Further help

For health advice and information 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the NHS offers call and web services. You can also visit NHS websites for services, health information and health news at nhs.uk 

  • England – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs.uk 
  • Scotland – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs24.com 
  • Wales – call 0845 4647 , or visit nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk 
  • Northern Ireland – visit hscni.net