Croup season has arrived
A child having real difficulty breathing may be admitted to the hospital for supplemental oxygen or breathing treatments. (Fotolia.com / January 8, 2013)
Have you heard the sound of raspy, throaty voices around your house lately? This "noise" is ushering in croup season!
Croup is an infection that causes swelling of the larynx (vocal box) and trachea (windpipe) that in turn makes the airway just beneath the vocal cords become swollen and narrow. With swelling and narrowing of the airway, breathing becomes more difficult and noisy; when a patient coughs, he/she sounds almost like a seal barking.
Croup is quite common in young children, but the sound emanates from that child when they cough, can be scary and concerning for both parent and child.
Children are most likely to get croup between the ages of 6 months and 3 years old. As a child gets older, croup becomes less common as the trachea gets larger and therefore the swelling doesn't cause as much compromise. When you wake up in the middle of the night to hear your child "barking" in the next room, you need to know what to do.
Since most croup is caused by a common virus, the problem is not treated with antibiotics. The mainstay of treatment is to try and calm your child, since they may be scared both by a tight feeling in the chest and the strange sound they make while breathing and coughing.
The best treatment for croup seems to be taking your child into the bathroom and turning the shower on hot. Let the steam from the hot water fill the room while you sit and read to your child. Typically, within five to 10 minutes (before the hot water runs out!) the hot, moist air should improve your child's breathing. He/she may still have a barking cough, but should be more comfortable and won't look like they're having trouble breathing.
If the moist steam doesn't help, and the weather is cool and comfortable, go outside. That's right -- taking a "croupy" child from the moist heat of the bathroom into the cool night air may also help open his/her airways.
If your child shows signs of respiratory distress, such as turning blue while coughing, is retracting (using the chest muscles between the ribs to help them breath), grunting with each breath, or seems quite anxious and is having trouble breathing, call for emergency help. A child having real difficulty breathing may be admitted to the hospital for supplemental oxygen or breathing treatments.
Steroids have also been helpful when used for the correct patient population. Steroids may be used in both an outpatient and inpatient settings. They help reduce inflammation in the trachea and croup symptoms lessen over several days. Steroids used in a short burst are not harmful to a child.
Your child may have symptoms of croup for several days, and for some reason they always seem to get worse at night. Put your child to bed with a cool mist humidifier in the room for several nights to provide moisture to his/her airway.
Some children seem more prone to croup than others, and the problem may recur all during the fall and winter.
(Dr. Sue Hubbard is a nationally known pediatrician and co-host of "The Kid's Doctor" radio show. Submit questions at http://www.kidsdr.com.)