young girl with croup cough

What is Croup? 5 Fast Facts about Croup

It’s a sound every parent dreads: your child suddenly starts to bark like a seal. Yes, a seal.

The culprit is croup and it creates a sharp cough that is caused by a swollen airway. In many cases, as croup gets worse, the airway gets tighter and breathing and the cough gets heavier.

In Utah, croup is common. In fact, KSL News recently ran a story in mid-September that croup was making a comeback even as summer ends. It’s important to understand that croup is not just a winter sickness. And croup can sometimes be related to acid reflux disease, a condition we regularly treat at the Ear, Nose and Throat Center.

The Ear, Nose and Throat Center of Salt Lake City regularly sees young patients with croup symptoms. To help you understand croup, croup symptoms and how to treat croup, we’ve created these five fast facts about croup.

1. What is croup?

Croup is caused by an infection that results in inflammation of the windpipe and a barking cough. The cough is distinctive and is often described as similar to the sound of a barking seal. You can expect a child’s croupy cough to sound much different from their regular cough.

Listen to a doctor demonstrate a croup cough


2. What Are the Symptoms of Croup?

Utah croup patients typically first manifest common cold symptoms. Their nose may be runny. Their throat may hurt. After two to three days of common cold symptoms, however, the barking cough begins. At this point, children often breathe noisily while inhaling. This is called stridor and severe croup can cause both difficulty breathing and rapid breathing. Watch the video below to hear a young child with stridor.

Listen to a baby with stridor

Occasionally, croup can cause narrowing of the windpipe, which results in severe difficulty breathing.  Croup is very common in children between 6 months and 4 years old.

3. Which Age Group is at Risk for Croup?

Croup is very common in Utah children between the ages of 6 months and four-years old. However, children as old as 9 or 10 years old can also exhibit croup-like symptoms. In many cases, these older children with chronic croup may suffer from acid reflux problems. We’ll cover this condition in greater detail below.

4. How Should I Treat Croup?

Most cases of croup resolve without treatment within 7 days. However, croup often strikes at night and strikes fear into parents who understandably wonder if their child may suddenly stop breathing. Fortunately, it’s possible to treat the croup symptoms at home and, at the very least, improve breathing before you visit a doctor or an emergency room.

Liquids are always a good idea. You can offer your child cold drinks, Popsicles, even ice. Whatever helps keep them hydrated. During cold winter nights, you can take a child outside and the cold air will often reduce inflammation in the throat. If the weather is not cold outside, you will want to humidify a room using either a humidifier or running a hot shower in a bathroom to create steam. Close the door, let the room fill with mist, and hold your child as their breathing improves.

5. How Does an Ear, Nose and Throat Doctor Treat Croup?

In Utah’s dry air, our Ear, Nose and Throat doctors recommend the use of humidifiers to add moisture in the child’s bedroom or in other rooms in your home. We also use a cool mist nebulizer, which is a machine that allows medication to be inhaled directly into the lungs as a mist. Other treatment options include epinephrine treatments and oral corticosteroids. We also may recommend acetaminophen, ibuprofen and other anti-inflammatory medicines to help reduce fever in sick kids.

It’s important to note that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines are not helpful in treating croup.

Chronic Croup May be Triggered by Acid Reflux Disease

While croup is typically treated and cured within a week, some children exhibit chronic croup. A study by the University of Utah reveals that children who have continuing recurrence of croup could be suffering from stomach acid reflux problems.

The Ear, Nose and Throat center specializes in treating acid reflux disease and can help you pinpoint acid reflux symptoms. We also recommend you read about 11 foods that trigger acid reflux disease and heartburm. We can also help diagnose and treat croup.

Contact the Ear, Nose and Throat Center at 801-328-2522 to learn more.