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Barking Cough in Children: The Smart Parent’s Guide to Croup

Seeing your child violently shaking from a coughing fit is every parent’s nightmare. Hearing that loud, barking sound they make doesn’t help, too. But sometimes, children’s symptoms tend to be scarier than the illness they suffer from, as in the case of croup.

Croup is a condition most prevalent during childhood. It is an infection that affects the trachea or windpipe, larynx or the voice box, and the bronchi or the air passages that lead to the lungs.

Children with this condition exhibit a distinctive noise when coughing that mimics the sound of a seal’s bark. They may also experience stridor, a harsh sounding noise when they breathe in.

While the most recognizable signs of croup might make it seem like a serious illness, it isn’t actually the case. This type of children’s cough can be easily treated once you have the correct diagnosis and know its underlying cause.

Identifying Croup: Two Types

Croup is often associated with a barking cough similar to the sound made by seals. It also comes with noisy breathing, especially at night during sleep.

Most of the time, these symptoms last for a couple of days and appear in the following two types of croup:

1. Spasmodic Croup

This type of croup occurs after an asthma attack or allergies. It doesn’t come with fever, but it can be quite scary since coughing intensifies at night and may cause a child to wake up because of difficulty in breathing.

2. Viral Croup

As the name implies, this type of croup is caused by a viral infection, specifically affecting the windpipe and voice box. It often occurs after a cold, and symptoms may come with a fever.

Three Causes of Croup

Croup is an infection common during the autumn and winter seasons where common colds and influenza are most prevalent. This is because the swelling of the airways causes a barking cough. This occurs after the throat becomes irritated due to colds or flu.

Here are the three possible causes of your child’s croup:

1. Parainfluenza Virus

Several different viruses cause croup, but most cases occur due to parainfluenza viruses, specifically strains one through four.

This type of virus is airborne. This means it can be transmitted via close contact with people with the illness, particularly through airborne droplets in their sneeze or cough reflexes. It also spreads through the touching of contaminated objects and surfaces.

2. Other viruses

While parainfluenza viruses are the usual culprit for croup in children, there are other viruses that may cause it – albeit, in fewer cases. This includes:

  • Flu viruses (influenza A and B)
  • Measles virus for unimmunized children
  • Enteroviruses
  • Common cold virus or the rhinovirus
  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which usually causes pneumonia and severe breathing issues in infants

3. Irritated and/or inflamed airways due to allergies, acid reflux, etc.

Aside from viruses, some cases of croup are caused by other illnesses, like epiglottitis (the inflammation of the epiglottis).

In some cases, the inhalation of foreign objects and irritants may also lead to this condition. The same is true for acid reflux and allergic reactions from dust mites or pollen.

Croup Treatment: Five Ways to Ease Your Child’s Barking Cough

As mentioned earlier, croup is much less scary than its symptoms. In fact, it can be treated easily at home and often doesn’t require expert medical attention.

Here are five ways you can ease your child of their barking cough:

1. Keep your child relaxed

In almost every case, crying and distress will only make the barking cough worse. This is why you have to make sure that you comfort your child when they have croup. Sitting them upright will also help them breathe easier and, thus, ease the gravity of the symptoms of croup.

2. Give your child oral medicine

In most cases, giving your child cough medicine can help treat croup. If your child experiences severe swelling in their throat, the pediatrician might prescribe an oral corticosteroid medication to help clear the airways.

3. Keep your child hydrated

Like other types of cough, drinking plenty of fluids also helps with croup. Make sure that your child stays hydrated. You can also try giving them small amounts of fluid through a medicine dropper or spoon if necessary.

4. Have your child get plenty of rest

When your child has a barking cough, you should make sure that they get plenty of rest.

5. Know when to bring your child to the hospital

In most cases, croup clears up in a span of 48 hours. But, in rare cases, symptoms may last for as long as two weeks.

Children who were born prematurely or had asthma and other respiratory ailments are at a higher risk of complications. Watch out for signs that they might need hospitalization, including:

  • Very fast or labored breathing
  • Cannot walk or talk because your child is running out of breath
  • Stridor is getting worse
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Drooling
  • Bluish or pale lips
  • Pulling their neck and chest muscles while breathing
  • Sleepy, tired, or too hard to wake
  • Showing signs of dehydration

The Takeaway

Croup is a mild-yet-scary illness your little ones may catch anytime during their childhood. As a parent, it is important that you understand everything about this condition to shorten your children’s suffering and possibly prevent them from acquiring the infection in the first place.

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