What is Croup?
Croup is known for its loud, barking cough and inflammation of the throat, which can cause severe issues with breathing. It is seen almost exclusively in children, the smaller the child the more severe the illness can be. Croup usually starts as a cold or upper respiratory infection and often presents at night as a gasping/barking cough. Most of the time croup can be easily treated at home, but it can sometimes be life threatening.
It is usually seen in younger children aged 0 to 3, although older children can also get it. Croup is often caused by parainfluenza viruses or RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). These viruses cause swelling of the voicebox and windpipe which leads to coughing.
Emergency care: If your child has the following symptoms you should call 911:
- blue or gray around their lips/face
- unusually sleepy or glassy-eyed
- if the skin between their ribs is sucked in (this is called retractions)
- inability to speak or cry
- struggling to breathe and nothing you are doing is helpful
For more information please see our article: “My Child has a Cough – When Do I Call 911?” It is very important to know that there are certain times when it is not appropriate to drive your child to the ER – you should call 911 and wait for the ambulance instead.
If your child presents with this sort of a cough one of the best quick remedies is to take them into a steamy bathroom with you; run hot water from the shower and/or bathroom sink with the door closed while you sit with them. Often the steam will open the lungs and throat and allow the child to breathe more freely. Have the child in the steam for at least ten minutes.
Another option is to take your child outside in the cool night air or sit by an open window. You can also place them in front of an open refrigerator.
Once you have helped your child return to a more normal breathing pattern:
- Set them up in bed with a cool mist humidifier running.
- Stay with the child throughout the night to monitor their breathing.
- Raising the head of the bed can help drain the mucus and allow them to breathe more freely. You can use extra pillows for larger children, for infants I suggest putting books under the mattress to create an incline.
- Sitting up with the infant in a chair is also a possibility, but the caregiver holding the child needs to be alert.
- Give the child plenty of liquids to help thin the mucus: breast milk, water, or teas such as peppermint, thyme, marshmallow or licorice.
- Rub their chest with essential oils in a base oil (such as coconut oil): the essential oils that are most helpful include: tea tree, thyme and lavender. In my practice I encourage parents to have pre-made chest rubs or some essential oils on hand for situations like this (or even just for a regular cough.) Make sure to dilute the essential oils to an age-appropriate dose, and follow all essential oil safety guidelines.
During the day:
- Avoid dairy
- Avoid sugar/sweets
- Avoid processed foods
- Avoid mucus-forming foods such as: oranges, tofu, tomatoes, meat and shellfish
- Increase fluids (water, teas which can be sweetened with organic honey)
- Encourage your child to eat lighter foods such as broths. Suggested foods include: garlic, onions, leeks, turnips, leafy greens, grapes and pineapple.
- Consider supplementing Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Zinc – speak with your doctor for an appropriate dose for your child
The croupy cough will often last for 2 or 3 nights in a row: have a humidifier running in your child’s room and remain nearby or otherwise monitor them while they sleep for those nights. A milder cough and cold symptoms will typically remain for two to four weeks. Continue with the increased liquids and diet and supplements outlined above to support their healing.
Please note, this article is strictly for informational purposes only, not to diagnose or treat.