Having a cough can be frustrating to most people, especially a persistent cough. What is more worrying is when children experience cough as treating children can be quite difficult due to their inability to speak well and to explain what they are feeling. One of the coughs that is common among children is a croup. In this DoctorOnCall’s article, we will be learning more about croup and what makes it different from any other cough.
Croup is a respiratory illness affecting the airway track which is characterised by a special cough called the ‘barking cough’. It is usually caused by the parainfluenza virus but in some cases bacteria such as Corynebacterium diphtheria, Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pneumoniae has been responsible for croup. Viruses such as influenza, adenovirus and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are another virus that has been reported.
Croup is common among children below the age of 2 but croup can occur at any time from baby up to a child aged 12 years old. This is due to the infiltration of such pathogens to the anatomic structures of the airways that is smaller causing young children to be susceptible to croup. Croup initially starts in the nose and throat which then moves down to the lungs. It also irritates the voice box (larynx) and windpipe (trachea), causing it to become swollen.
Croup is spread through direct contact with a person infected by it or contaminated objects or surfaces of fluids from the person with croup by coughing and sneezing. Viruses causing croup are contagious but not all symptoms will be exhibited by a person exposed by it. Children with croup are considered contagious for the first three days of the illness course or until the fever subsides. Adults can actually catch the same virus causing croup in children but it is less likely for adults to have croup as such in children due to the wider and bigger airways.
How to spot a child with a croup or suspect your child developing a croup? The most prominent sign of a croup is the barking sound when coughing that sounds like a seal and is associated with a hoarse voice or temporary loss of voice. Initially, the child usually shows symptoms of cold-like symptoms such as fever, runny nose and cough. Some children may even make a high-pitched rasping sound when breathing. Symptoms often get worse at night or when the child is crying or upset. If the airways swelling continues, the child will have breathing difficulty which can be seen by very rapid breathing till the extent of retraction of the chest marked by the skin between the ribs being tugged in). In severe cases, a child may look pale or bluish in colour around the mouth.
Croup is a disease that could resolve on its own within a few days. In the mild case of croup, parents can take care of the child by themselves and to observe if there is sign of the croup getting severe. If the child shows severe signs such as breathing difficulty, looking bluish and pale, very high fever or looking unusually inactive, an urgent visit to the emergency department or nearest healthcare facility is needed.
Mild cases of croup are usually treated at home. Parents have to make sure their child is calm by comforting them as crying can make symptoms get worse. Always make sure the child gets plenty of fluids. Use cool mist humidifier to help improve the cough. Providing the child with medicine such as paracetamol to ease fever and other discomfort can do wonder. Never attempt to give cough medicines or antibiotics unless instructed by a physician. Croup symptoms usually improves in 3 to 4 days.
Also read – Dengue Prevention