Croup is a medical condition characterized by difficulty breathing and a distinctive cough caused by constricted airways. Croup, which usually affects children who are 5 years old or younger, results from inflammation and swelling of the larynx and trachea. The causes of croup are viruses, bacteria, measles, airway irritants and mild colds. Most children develop antibodies to the viruses that cause croup. However, children with poorly functioning immune systems are at increased risk for contracting the condition. Although rare, older children and teens also can contract croup.
Viral croup, which is the most common type of croup, is caused by parainfluenza viruses, or HPIVs. The respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, and the adenovirus are less common causes of viral croup. Spasmodic croup often occurs after a mild cold, develops quickly without fever and tends to recur. Children with croup usually experience cold-like symptoms for a few days before developing the barking cough, hoarseness, wheezing and labored breathing. Croup usually lasts for a few days to one week. The condition can worsen and cause dangerous airway constriction, bronchitis or pneumonia. Severe cases can lead to bacterial infection of the upper airway and require hospitalization.
Teens who have not developed antibodies to the viruses that cause croup and those whose immune systems are compromised can develop viral croup. Many children who are exposed to the viruses only develop cold symptoms, according to KidsHealth. Some children tend to develop croup each time they have a viral infection of the upper respiratory system. Teens can also contract croup through the less common causes of croup, such as bacterial infections of the upper respiratory system and exposure to airway irritants. Inhaled allergens and acid reflux can cause croup. Children with certain medical conditions, such as asthma and cerebral palsy, are more likely to develop severe croup symptoms.
Croup is usually treated at home after conferring with the child’s doctor. Steam or cool air vaporizers at night help relieve symptoms and ease breathing. Acetaminophen can help with pain and fever. Severe symptoms might require treatment by your child’s doctor. Steroid medications or breathing treatments help reduce swelling and improve breathing. Your doctor might use antibiotic therapy to fight the infection. Hospitalization might be required if your child’s breathing is severely compromised.
Although croup is usually more severe in children under 1 year old, teens who have croup can experience discomfort, pain and worsening symptoms if croup is not treated. A child who has recurrent croup or an underlying condition that requires diagnosis and treatment should see a doctor. However, most croup cases are treated at home with a doctor’s guidance. Immediate medical attention is required if your teen has severe breathing problems, red and swollen epiglottis, blue skin color, persistent fatigue, dehydration, drooling, or trouble swallowing.