Croup is a childhood viral coughing condition that affects the trachea (windpipe) and bronchi (smaller branches of trachea, each opening into the respective lung). The infection causes the larynx (voice box) to become swollen and the trachea (windpipe) to become blocked.
This respiratory illness, recognized by physicians for centuries, derives its name from an Anglo-Saxon word, kropan, or from an old Scottish word, roup, meaning to cry out in a hoarse voice. It is the most common cause of hoarseness, cough and onset of acute respiratory difficulty in young children. It has a characteristic barking-like cough, and is often associated with mild to moderate breathing difficulty, especially on drawing in air.
It is fairly uncommon, and studies show it affects boys more than girls. Although majority of children will come out of it unharmed, croup can be lethal in very young infants.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
Although it is possible to get croup any time of the year, it is more common in early winter. The initial symptoms of croup resemble viral flu, and include the following:
fever, usually high
mild cough, which turns to barking cough 1-2 days after onset
hoarse, croaky voice
difficulty breathing, called stridor, more on breathing in (inspiratory stridor)
Mild cases of croup can be treated symptomatically at home after a visit to GP. Croup, although a short lived illness which will self resolve in a few days, can be distressing to the child due to respiratory difficulty and cough. It is advisable to sit up your child through particularly cumbersome coughing episodes as that will relieve some of the pressure on the trachea. Comforting your child is important, as distress can further compromise the airway. In severe cases, patient should attend the ER as soon as possible as the breathing difficulty compromises the airway and may prove fatal if not immediately relieved. Patients should especially be seen at the ED if one or more of the following signs are present:
severe breathing difficulties
increased breathing rate (they are too breathless to feed or talk) or ‘silent chest’ (you are unable to hear sounds of breathing)
worsening cough or rasping sound (stridor)
distress and agitation
drooling of saliva
the skin appearing dark, blue-tinged or pale
the skin around the ribs and chest appearing to be pulled in and tight, making the bones of the chest and ribs more visible
abnormal drowsiness and sleepiness
a high temperature of 38°C (100.4°F) or above
a rapid heartbeat.
To prevent croup, take the same steps you use to prevent colds and flu. Frequent hand-washing is the most important. Also keep your child away from anyone who’s sick, and encourage your child to cough or sneeze into his or her elbow. To stave off more-serious infections, keep your child’s vaccinations current.