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Croup Cough Sound

Croup Symptom Basics


Updated May 27, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Mum administering syrup to baby in bedroom
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There are a few common things in pediatrics that are quite scary for parents, including the first time a child:

All are a little easier to manage if you understand what is happening at the time, especially when your child has croup.

Croup Cough Sound

Many upper respiratory infections can cause a cough and parents often use the term "croupy" to describe those coughs, but there is really only one croup cough sound.

What does it sound like?

Most people describe a croup cough as sounding like a barking seal. But since most of us, even those who have been to Sea World, have never heard a barking seal, that description isn't necessarily that helpful though.

It has also been described as "the yelping of a fox" or "the barking of a dog."

In 1814, John Cheyne, a British doctor, described a croup cough as a "most unusual cough, rough, and stridulous."

Other people use words like deep and brassy to describe the croup cough sound.

That the cough is different or unusual is one of the best ways to know that you are dealing with croup.

Other distinctive features are that a child with croup will usually:

  • be fine when he goes to bed and then wake up in the middle of the night with this unusual cough, although some kids will have a runny nose, mild fever, and milder cough for 12 to 48 hours before hand
  • have a hoarse voice or cry
  • develop stridor, a high-pitched sound that is often mistaken for wheezing
  • be much better once they wake up in the morning, only to get worse again the next night

Call or see your pediatrician if you think your child has croup. Although many children have mild croup symptoms, croup can sometimes cause more serious, life-threatening infections.

Croup Cough Sound Mimics

What else can sound like a croup cough?

Fortunately, not too much.

In the old days, pediatricians would often worry about epiglottis when a child presented with a cough and stridor, which are also symptoms of croup. Thanks to the Hib vaccine, epiglottis is not something that kids get very often any more though.

Other conditions to think about that can mimic croup include inhaling a foreign body, trauma, angioneurotic edema (swelling of the airway), and bacterial tracheitis.

Keep in mind that while it is often very easy to diagnose a child with croup, it can sometimes be more difficult to tell if they have viral croup or spasmodic croup, which some people think is triggered by allergies or even reflux. Viral croup can be caused by one of many different viruses, including parainfluenza, adenovirus, RSV, and influenza.


Behrman: Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 19th ed.

Mandell: Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases, 7th ed.

Sobol SE. Epiglottitis and croup. Otolaryngol Clin North Am - 01-JUN-2008; 41(3): 551-66.

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