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Symptoms and risks

At first, a child with croup seems to have a cold, but then develops a fever and cough. The lining of the throat and vocal cords are red and swollen. The child develops a weak, hoarse voice and a cough that sounds like a bark. 

Sometimes the air passage is also swollen and children find it hard to breathe. The child’s breathing may then be quick and noisy.

In most cases, croup sounds worse than it is. Symptoms often get worse at night. The child may be very tired and not interested in regular activities because it is harder to breathe. In a very bad case of croup, the child can’t breathe. Some children get so sick they need to be treated in a hospital.

How it is spread

Viruses cause croup. Antibiotics, which work against bacteria, will not help with croup.

The viruses that cause croup are spread in droplets coughed, sneezed or breathed into the air. The viruses can be in the mucus or saliva and kids can spread it by touching each other or by touching objects.

The viruses can live for hours on objects, such as toys or tables.

Frequent hand washing is the best way to reduce the spread of respiratory viruses.

This is especially important during cold and influenza season.

What to do if your child has croup

What to do at home

  • Wash your hands often when looking after a child with croup to prevent the spread of infection.
  • Give your child plenty of fluids to drink.
  • You can help a child with croup breathe more easily:
    • Use a cool mist humidifier in your child’s room OR
    • If it is cool outside, wrap your child in a warm blanket and take your child outside.
  • Do not give over-the-counter cough and cold medicines to a child under 6, unless your doctor tells you to.
  • Use saline nose drops (a weak salt water solution) to soften the mucus in the nose and help your child breathe better. Do not use nose drops that contain drugs. Use a bulb syringe to clear mucus from the nose.

When To Call Your Doctor or 811

Call your doctor immediately if the child has croup or any of the following:

  • a temperature of 38.5°C or higher for more than 72 hours OR has a fever and is under 6 months of age
  • has trouble breathing or is breathing very quickly
  • is drooling saliva from the mouth and can’t talk to you
  • cannot swallow
  • is uncomfortable lying down
  • is unresponsive or listless
  • have any other signs of illness that concern you

If your doctor gives your child medicine, follow the directions carefully.

Children with mild croup CAN go to the child care centre or school if they feel well enough to participate in activities.