As an acute respiratory condition that makes breathing more difficult, croup has the ability to cause both you and your toddler to panic. Learning the facts about croup in toddlers can help you manage this common childhood illness calmly and effectively when it strikes your little one -- and know when the time has come to call your doctor or head to the emergency room for medical attention, if necessary.
Also called laryngotracheitis, croup is a condition that commonly develops in toddlers and babies as a result of swelling or inflammation in the vocal cord and windpipe area. The swelling narrows the larynx and trachea, which limits air flow, a condition that becomes most noticeable when your child coughs. This inflammation typically occurs as a result of respiratory viruses, including parainfluenza, influenza, respiratory syncytial virus and adenoviruses. These viruses cause an upper respiratory infection that spreads to the larynx and trachea.
The most common symptom of croup in toddlers is a distinctive, barking cough that occurs as a result of narrowed breathing passages. These narrowed breathing passages cause the vocal cords to vibrate excessively, resulting in a “seal bark” sound when your croup-affected toddler coughs. Other signs of croup include labored breathing and a high-pitched whistling sound during inhalation, both of which generally get worse at night. Symptoms of croup usually arrive on the tail end of typical symptoms of the common cold, such as a runny nose, irritability, nasal congestion, sneezing, coughing and low-grade fever. Croup typically lasts for three to four days and occurs most commonly in the fall and winter, since those times correspond to an increase in viral upper respiratory infections.
Mild cases of croup that develop in toddlers generally improve with adequate home care remedies. Take your toddler into a steamy bathroom regularly or consider putting a cool-air vaporizer in your toddler’s bedroom to moisten the air and ease breathing. If you’re concerned, take your child to the pediatrician for an examination. Depending upon the symptoms, he may administer a corticosteroid or aerosolized epinephrine, medications which typically help improve symptoms. Seek immediate emergency medical attention if your child experiences ongoing breathing difficulties or respiratory stress or starts to turn blue.
Proper hygiene habits play a key role in preventing your toddler from succumbing to croup. Wash your hands and your child’s hands on a regular basis, especially if either of you has been exposed to a person with a cold or other respiratory infection. Whenever possible, stay away from people who show signs of illness, particularly during the fall and winter. Ensure that your child gets her childhood vaccinations as scheduled, since several of them, including the Hib vaccination, the measles vaccination and the diphtheria vaccination, help provide protection against formerly common causes of croup.
- “The Good Doctor’s Guide to Colds and Flu”; Dr. Neil Schachter; 2005
- “The Mighty Toddler”; Robin Barker, R.N.; 2007
- MedlinePlus: Croup