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Croup Treatment

More About Kids with Croup


Updated June 02, 2014

Croup Treatments

Although, like most viral infections, there is no cure for croup, there are many treatments that can help improve the symptoms and make your child feel better.

Mild croup symptoms can usually be safely treated at home. Common treatments include using humidified air, which can be delivered by a cool mist humidifier. Using a hot steam vaporizer is usually discouraged because of the risk of your child getting burned if he touches it. Instead, warm steam can be delivered by turning on all of the hot water in the bathroom, including from the shower and sink, close the bathroom door and holding your child as he breathes in the steamy, humidified air.

On cool nights, exposure to the cool nighttime air may also help symptoms, and this phenomenon is responsible for another characteristic finding of croup, the fact that children often get better on the way to the emergency room. To take advantage of this, it may help to bundle your child up and walk around outside for several minutes. It is probably not a good idea to keep his window open though, as you don't want him to get too cold.

Other treatments can include using a fever reducer (acetaminophen or ibuprofen containing products) and/or a non-narcotic cough syrup (although they probably won't suppress the cough of croup) if your child is over two to four years old.

Since symptoms worsen if your child is crying and agitated, trying to keep your child calm may also improve his symptoms.

Children with moderate or severe croup, or who aren't quickly responding to home treatments, will need medical attention for further treatments, which usually includes administering a steroid to help decrease swelling and inflammation and improve breathing. An injection of dexamethasone has been the standard way of administering this steroid, but new studies have shown that an oral steroid (Prelone, Orapred, etc) or steroid delivered by a nebulizer (Pulmicort) may also be effective.

For children with severe respiratory distress, treatment, in a hospital setting may include a breathing treatment with racemic epinephrine. Because there is a risk of a 'rebound' and worsening breathing, children are usually observed for 2-4 hours after receiving racemic epinephrine. Children who continue to have difficulty breathing, or who require more than one treatment, are usually hospitalized.

A mist or oxygen tent has long been used to treat children who are hospitalized, but there use has been decreased because it makes it harder for the hospital staff to observe the child and notice if he is getting worse. Instead, blow by oxygen or cool mist may be used.

A newer treatment that is being researched is the use of a helium-oxygen mixture for children with severe croup.

Common Questions:

Can my child get croup more than once?

Yes. There are many viruses that can cause croup, including parainfluenza, adenovirus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and influenza (the flu virus), and there are multiple subtypes of each virus, so your child can get croup multiple times as he gets infected with each of these viruses.

However, if your child is getting croup very often, then he may have spasmodic croup (acute spasmodic laryngitis), which can be triggered by viruses, allergies or reflux. Although they may have trouble breathing, children with spasmodic croup often don't have a fever, and get better quickly after several hours.

Kids who get diagnosed with croup multiple times each year might also need to be evaluated for asthma.

Is there a cure for croup?

No. Like most viral respiratory tract infections in children, there is no cure.

Will antibiotics help children with croup?

No. Unless your child has a secondary bacterial infection, such as an ear infection, antibiotics will not be effective against the viruses that cause croup.

How long does croup last?

The main symptoms of croup typically last only 2-5 days, but more rarely, they can last several weeks. Once the barking cough and difficulty breathing improve, your child may continue to have cold symptoms for 7-10 days.

How can I prevent my child from getting croup?

Although there is no vaccine (except for the flu vaccine) or medication that can prevent your child from getting croup, you can probably decrease the chance that your child will get croup by decreasing his exposure to other people who are sick. Also, strict hand washing and avoiding sharing foods and drinks can help to lessen your child's chances of getting sick.

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