What is Croup?

Croup can be caused by several viruses which result in inflammation of the airways and voice box producing swelling as well as narrowing of the airways.

It usually affects children aged one to three years and they can have more than one episode in childhood. It is more common during autumn and winter.

Symptoms develop over one to two days, usually lasts three to four days and may appear worse at night. Croup is uncommon after the age of six but can affect older children even adults.

What are the symptoms?

  • Cough – usually harsh and barking cough
  • Breathing problems – manifesting as noisy breathing (stridor)
  • Other symptoms may include runny nose, hoarseness and sore throat, high temperature (fever) and poor feeding
  • Croup may follow a cold but can also appear without any earlier illness

Managing croup at home

  • Try to calm your child – crying makes their breathing difficulty worse
  • Keep your child in a comfortable position. Sitting up right can help their breathing. Raise the head of the cot slightly to assist your child’s breathing or if older support them with extra pillows
  • Give little and often cool drinks to soothe their throat and keep them hydrated
  • Give your child infant paracetamol, such as Calpol, or ibuprofen liquid, such as Calprofen or Neurofen, to reduce their fever if distressed. Please follow manufacturer’s guidelines
  • Monitor your child closely, as the symptoms may get worse

What not to do

  • Put anything in your child’s mouth to look at the throat; this may make symptoms worse
  • Give your child cough medicines
  • Do not smoke around your child as it worsens breathing problems

Seek medical advice (GP or call NHS direct 111) if your child with croup

  • has a temperature above 39°C or looks ill or distressed
  • has noisy breathing (stridor) when sitting quietly or during sleep
  • is drooling or cannot swallow or feed easily
  • has a sucking-in of the skin between and below the ribs or above the collar bone when breathing
  • If you are worried for any other reason

When to seek urgent help (dial 999)

Call an ambulance immediately if your child with croup

  • becomes more restless, has laboured breathing or is exhausted
  • is drowsy, has poor colour (grey, pale or blue) or looks very unwell

What the doctor may do

  • After seeing your child, the doctor may suggest you continue to treat them at home
  • As croup is caused by a virus, antibiotics are not usually given
  • Give some steroid medicine to your child to reduce the airway swelling and ease their breathing
  • It may be necessary to admit your child to the hospital for observation and further treatment in severe cases

Going home

Your child can be discharged when their breathing difficulties have resolved. A mild but irritating cough may persist
for a further week or so.

If you have any questions or concerns, contact

Paediatric Assessment Unit (PAU) (9am-9pm)
Telephone: 01935 384 788

Children’s Ward (9pm-9am)
Telephone: 01935 384 360

If you need this information in another format, eg. a different language, please ask a member of staff.

Ref: 10-16-106
Review: 06/21