What is Croup?

Croup is a throat infection which can also affect the larynx. It is caused by a combination of several viruses. Children that are younger than 5 years of age diagnosed with the infection are said to have Croup. In older children and adults, it is referred to as laryngitis. Croup is most commonly seen in winter and early spring.

What are the Symptoms of Croup?

There are many symptoms of Croup such as a harsh cough, which can be scratchy and barking. This croup cough is caused by inflammation and swelling of the vocal cords. The cough can be accompanied by brightly colored phlegm and difficulty breathing. The infection manifests on the inside lining of the breathing tubes. A combination of these can cause narrowing of the breathing tube resulting in varying degrees of breathing difficulty as well as a raw-feeling sore through and a runny nose.

Croup can set on after a cold or earlier illness.

Other symptoms include

  • A high fever
  • Body aches and pains
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of having easily running out of energy
  • Loss of appetite

Croup symptoms can sometimes worsen at night. During the day a kid with a croup cough may have cold symptoms but still feel relatively normal. At night, those symptoms can worsen significantly.

Croup Causes

The most common cause of croup is a viral infection, though bacterial infections can also lead to croup. In very rare cases, other non-infectious factors can cause croup as well. With regard to viral infection, parainfluenza 1 and 3 are the most common causes of croup, though the list of viral drivers is comprehensive. Other parainfluenza infections, including 2 and 4, along with influenza types A and B, adenovirus, enteroviruses, and rhinovirus (common cold) are other viral infections that can lead to croup.

Rarely, bacterial infections can cause croup as well, including some pneumonias. Additionally, in very rare cases, croup can result from non-infectious factors. Any condition resulting in inflammation of the epiglottis, or epiglottitis, has also been implicated in the development of croup. In addition, aspiration, or inhaling a foreign object, allergic reactions to pollen or dust, inhalation of damaging fumes, and acid reflux have also been identified as causative agents.

How is Croup Treated?

Kids with croup need to get as much rest as possible even if they are starting to show some signs of improvement. Over-the-counter medications can help with bringing down fever. Plenty of cold drinks (preferably water) can help reduce a temperature. Most symptoms can resolve on their own without the need for prescription medication. As antibiotics would not be prescribed for croup, inhalers or a steroid medication to reduce swelling may be considered as an option by your healthcare provider.

Croup Prevention

While the majority of croup cases are caused by viral infections, there are many steps that can be taken to prevent its development, regardless of the cause. Taking precautionary steps to prevent flu and common cold infection is very effective in helping prevent croup. Frequent hand washing, especially during cold and flu season, as well as regularly cleaning heavily used surfaces can help. Additionally, getting flu and measles vaccinations are also effective preventative measures. Though they are rare, care should be taken in regards to non-infectious causes as well. Making sure that children do not put small foreign objects in their mouth or nose helps prevent aspiration driven croup. In addition, avoiding noxious fumes is also helpful. Also, management of acid reflux can also help prevent irritation of the larynx or trachea, which leads to croup. Finally, management of allergies to pollen and/or dust can also help reduce irritation that could cause croup.

Last Reviewed:
September 20, 2016
Last Updated:
December 11, 2017