Croup is a condition that causes swelling in the upper airway (vocal cords and windpipe), resulting in a barking cough and difficulty breathing. Croup is seen mostly in children between 3 months and 5 years old. Most cases of croup are not serious and can be treated at home.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

The most identifiable sign of croup is a seal-like, barking cough that follows cold-like symptoms. Frequent coughing can lead to a hoarse voice and noisy, difficult breathing. The cough often gets worse at night and may be accompanied by a fever. In rare cases, a child may develop a serious airway obstruction that requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms of a more serious illness include high-pitched breathing sounds, drooling or difficulty swallowing, anxiety, breathing fast, or blue/gray skin around the nose, mouth, or fingernails. Doctors diagnose croup by performing a physical exam, listening to a child’s breathing, and examining the throat. Imaging tests are sometimes used to rule out other conditions.


Croup is usually caused by parainfluenza viruses, but infection with adenovirus, measles, influenza, or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) may also cause croup. These viruses are spread by coughing and sneezing into the air or on objects. Children can get infected by breathing in infected respiratory droplets or touching contaminated surfaces and then touching the eyes, nose, or mouth. The nasal membranes are usually infected first, followed by the vocal cords (larynx) and windpipe (trachea). Even after being infected, many children do not develop croup. Continue reading for Prevention and Treatment Information . . .

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