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All you need to know about croup

Dr Sara Rayner MBBS, DRANZCOG, FRACGP

Croup is a common infection of the throat and airways that results in noisy breathing and a harsh dry cough that can sound like a seal barking. Most children who have croup are under five years old, although it can affect children aged up to 8 years of age.

Children with croup usually have a cold-like illness first: a runny nose, cough and slight temperature. Then after a day or so, high pitched noisy breathing (stridor) develops as well as a harsh, barking cough and hoarse voice. Sometimes children can have difficulty breathing depending on how severe the illness is. The symptoms occur particularly when the air is cold, such as at night-time.

You can treat mild croup at home if your child has no breathing problems or noisy breathing when they are not crying. Comforting your child, offering fluids and Panadol or Nurofen may help. Mild croup generally settles within a couple of hours and the child goes back to sleep.

If the croup doesn’t settle, or if your child becomes more distressed or unwell, take them to your local doctor or children’s hospital straight away. Medical treatment for croup may include oral or inhaled steroids such as a short course of Prednisolone. Antibiotics will not be of use as the viruses that cause croup will not respond to this treatment.

In rare cases, a severe croup attack can cause a child to stop breathing. For severe symptoms, nebulised adrenalin may be given in hospital to relieve the swelling in the airways.

It is not usually possible to prevent croup. Many viruses can cause it and there is no immunisation available against most of them. However, immunisation against the flu is highly recommended especially for children with other medical conditions such as asthma.

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