Croup is a childhood condition that affects the windpipe (trachea), the airways to the lungs (the bronchi) and the voice box (larynx).
Children with croup have a distinctive barking cough and will make a harsh sound, known as stridor, when they breathe in.
They may also have a hoarse voice and find it difficult to breathe because their airway is blocked.
Croup can usually be diagnosed by a GP and treated at home. However, if your child’s symptoms are severe and they are finding it difficult to breathe, take them to the nearest hospital’s accident and emergency (A&E) department.
Read more about the symptoms of croup and diagnosing croup.
Why does croup happen?
Commonly, croup is caused by a virus. Several viruses can cause croup but in most cases it is the parainfluenza virus.
Read more about the causes of croup.
Who is affected by croup?
Croup usually affects young children aged between six months and three years, with most cases occurring in one-year-olds.
However, croup can sometimes develop in babies as young as three months, and older children up to 15 years of age. Adults can also get croup but this is rare.
The condition is more common during the late autumn and early winter months.
It tends to affect more boys than girls.
A child may experience croup more than once during childhood.
Most cases of croup are mild and can be treated at home. Sitting your child upright and comforting them if they are distressed is important, because crying may make symptoms worse. Your child should also drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.
A single dose of an oral corticosteroid medication called dexamethasone or prednisolone will usually also be prescribed to help reduce the swelling in the throat.
If your child has breathing problems they may need hospital treatment, such as adrenaline and oxygen through a mask.
Read more about treating croup.
Most cases of croup clear up within 48 hours. However, in some cases symptoms can last for up to two weeks.
It is extremely rare for a child to die from croup.
There are a number of conditions that can follow croup, such as pneumonia and middle ear infection.
Read more about the complications of croup.
Croup is spread in a similar way to the common cold, so it is difficult to prevent.
Good hygiene is the main defence against croup, such as regularly washing hands and cleaning surfaces.
A number of your child's routine vaccinations also protect against some of the infections that can cause croup. These include:
- MMR – protection from measles, mumps and rubella
- DTaP/IPV/Hib – protection from diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio and Haemophilus influenzae type b