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Alanna Levine, MD

Croup In Babies

Baby’s got a weird cough? It might be croup. Here’s what you need to know about this (sometimes scary!) condition.

What is croup?

Croup by definition is the inflammation of the larynx and trachea windpipe. That inflammation causes baby to make a seal-like barking sound when she coughs or breathes. Normally, croup is caused by a virus — parainfluenza is the most common one, but there are some others as well.
*What are the symptoms of croup in babies?
The most typical symptom is a “seal-like” cough or a bark-sounding cough. Baby might have other symptoms similar to a cold. You may also see a fever or runny nose. In most kids, the barky cough lasts a few days, and then they get a more congested-sounding cough afterward. Sometimes parents think it’s getting worse, but that’s actually a common progression of croup.

Sometimes kids with croup have trouble breathing, which can be scary. If you can’t get baby to stop making noise when she’s trying to breathe, you should go to the emergency room.

Are there any tests for croup in babies?

No. Croup is diagnosed based on baby’s symptoms.

How common is croup in babies?

Pretty common, especially during cold and flu season. Three to 5 percent of kids ages six months to three years get croup each year.

How did my baby get croup?

Viruses that cause croup are spread through droplets from the mouth and nose. So a coughing or sneezing person spread it to baby through the air or by touch.

*What’s the best way to treat croup in babies?
The best at-home remedy is cold air, so wrap your baby up in blankets and open the window or go for a walk around the block — the cold night air does wonders! Even parents on their way to the emergency room notice baby’s symptoms get better by the time they arrive at the ER.

If that doesn't help, call your pediatrician. There are prescription steroid medications that also are helpful for treating the symptoms. But because croup is caused by a virus, it will resolve on its own in a few days and won't get better with antibiotics.

*What can I do to prevent my baby from getting croup?
The same way you guard her from cold and flu germs. Practice good hand washing — for baby and the people who’ll be around her. Keep baby away from sick people.

What do other moms do when their babies have croup?

“My daughter woke up with a horrible barky cough this morning, so I called the pediatrician’s office, and they said it's probably croup. Makes sense, since she had a runny nose and stuff for a few days before. She doesn't have a fever, and she's pretty much gone about her day normally. I can't get in to see the pediatrician until tomorrow, but I forgot to ask if I should keep her home tomorrow. The stuff I'm finding online is pretty divided: One thing will say it's irresponsible to bring her around other kids if she's still coughing, and another says it's totally fine for her to go to day care as long as she's not running a fever.”

“Our son had croup last year, and we were instructed to keep him home in those first few days until his symptoms improved (less barky of a cough, no fever). His croup was so obviously debilitating for him. He was so sick that I would’ve never even thought to send him to day care.”

“Riley had it in November about a month before he turned two. It sucked, but the bark (pun intended) is a lot worse than the bite. Your concerns should be about airflow and keeping him breathing. If his lips get pale, blue, gray — those are all signs he isn't breathing well. Also, if he sucks in under his rib cage while breathing, you need to call the doctor or head in to see them. If it were me, I would take him to the after-hours clinic tonight and not wait until morning. Croup gets worse at night. The croup cough is caused by inflammation of the vocal cords causing the airway to shrink. This is why it [can be] dangerous in infants and toddlers. Our doctor gave Riley an oral steroid to help reduce swelling, but he threw it up (the stuff tastes terrible).”

Are there any other resources for croup in babies?

American Academy of Pediatrics’