At the moment, three of my kids are recovering from croup and the oldest two staved it off by taking a steroid before it could develop! What the heck with croup, right?!
I have been told countless times by medical professionals – ER doctors, pediatricians, and nurses – that my kids would “grow out of it” soon but croup is something that we deal with every single year (sometimes, throughout the year) even though my kids are, obviously, getting older. It’s supposedly something children under three experience the most but that hasn’t been our family’s experience. I had it at the age of six and it actually put me in the hospital for a week because my bark and breathing were so bad. Last summer, at the age of thirty-nine, I had croup along with a respiratory illness even though I was well out of the age range they say it occurs.
But what IS croup?
Croup is caused by a virus, and it creates inflammation in the trachea which changes the way air sounds when a person breathes or coughs. Croup isn’t it’s OWN virus (which has always confused me), but is rather, a complication of a virus. So, if three people in the family have a bad cold, one might have a problem with their sinuses and congestion, another might have a chesty cough, and the other might develop croup. They all have the same thing but the symptoms are different.
The inflammation in the trachea can easily cause croup in a younger child because their airway is naturally more narrow but an older child or adult can have croup as well, but the inflammation must be more severe to cause a problem for them because their airway isn’t as narrow. Typically, an adult will lose their voice as a result of inflammation instead of the having stridor or the croup cough (see below). But saying a child will “grow out of croup” is unfair and often inaccurate. All ages can experience croup.
What does croup SOUND like?
Stridor is the sound you’ll find when someone who has croup is breathing; it is especially loud when a child laughs or cries because of the quick, deep breaths produced by these actions. Stridor usually shows up before the cough does, which can be really helpful if you recognize it because it allows earlier treatment that can prevent breathing difficulty.
The cough with croup sounds like a seal barking. Ort, ort, ort! Even if it sounds a little silly, it is an awful feeling cough. It isn’t productive at all and you just keep feeling the need to do it. As a six year old, I remember not being able to catch my breath because I was coughing almost non-stop before my mom took me to the hospital.
How do we TREAT it?
Croup can be pretty scary if it strikes in the middle of the night (which it tends to do) but there is treatment available, thank goodness. I am not a medical professional, neither is this medical advice, just my experience as a mom of five. We have had decent success in the winter months with going outside in the cold air, but it’s never long-lasting because we have to go inside at some point. Steam works much better in our experience; either taking a warm (not hot) bath or sitting on the toilet or chair in the bathroom near a hot shower running (not IN the shower) help a lot. Again, though, eventually you have to leave the bathroom.
Our absolute BEST treatment for croup is a prescription oral steroid called Orapred. We always have some in our fridge. It works very quickly at reducing inflammation and within a dose or two, stridor and the barking cough generally go away. We still go to the doctor each time to be checked, but there are no more emergency room visits or ambulance rides! Ideally, I will hear one of the kids have stridor in the afternoon or evening and I give them a dose of Orapred before the cough ever shows up; when it DOES show up at night or the next morning, it is much less severe and never causes breathing issues.
We also run cool mist humidifiers in all the kids’ bedrooms from October through April. It’s a friggin’ hassle but their pediatrician swears by it to help with illness.
Again, this is just our experience. Please talk with your doctor about how YOU can best respond to croup this winter.
What has your family’s experience been with croup?