Croup Cough Sound: What Parents Need to Know

If you wake up one night with your toddler or baby struggling to breathe and has a cough that sounds like a seal barking, he/she probably has croup. As nerve-wracking as this will be for you, you can rest assured that croup cough sounds a lot worse than it actually is, does not last for long, and is treatable.

Understanding the tell-tale signs and symptoms of croup and what you can do to bring relief to your child, will go a long way to help you cope with the condition, without becoming stressed out.

Following is some useful information to help you manage croup:

What Exactly is Croup?

Croup is a medical condition that is usually triggered by viruses like adenovirus, respiratory syncytial virus/RSV, or the common cold. When your baby or toddler has croup, his/her windpipe/trachea, and voice box/larynx, become inflamed and swollen. This results in the trachea, which is already narrow, narrowing even more, which could become a serious medical issue for your little one.

Croup Cough Sound

How Do Babies and Toddlers Get Croup?

Most times, children get croup from the parainfluenza virus, a respiratory virus that is not associated with the flu. However, there are other respiratory viruses that can trigger croup, such as:

• Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
• Adenovirus
• Influenza A/the flu
• Influenza B/the flu
• Enterovirus
• COVID-19

Studies conducted show that genetics could also play a part in babies and toddlers catching croup. It is thus a good idea to find out from other family members if you or one of your siblings had croup.

There are cases where children have had croup a few times. If your baby or toddler has had croup more than once, then it is best that you ask your doctor to refer you to an ENT specialist to assess your little one for possible abnormalities that could trigger recurrent episodes of croup.

What are the Symptoms of Croup in Children?

Croup normally starts as a common cold, with a runny nose, lots of irritability, and perhaps even a fever. After a few days, the child’s speaking or crying voice could start sounding hoarse, after which comes that cough that sounds like a barking seal. There could also be noisy or labored breathing, as well as a high-pitched, squeaky sound (stridor) when your child inhales.

You would be correct in thinking that these symptoms are similar to those related to COVID-19. However, the cough that normally accompanies COVID-19, is extremely different from the distinct barking cough of croup.

The typical symptoms of croup are:

• Runny or stuffy nose
• Raspy, hoarse voice
• Irritability
• Difficulty swallowing
• Shortness of breath
• A cough similar to the sound of a barking seal – normally worse at night
• Fever – sometimes

If your baby or toddler develops croup symptoms, it might be a good idea to make an appointment with a pediatrician. Premature babies are in most danger of developing complications.

Is Croup Contagious?

Although the croup cough itself is not contagious, the virus that causes it most definitely is! Croup is normally contagious for three days after the symptoms start, or until the infected child does not have a fever anymore.

Your baby or toddler (and you) could become exposed if you come into contact with someone who has croup, especially if he/she sneezes or coughs on you or gives you a hug or a high-five. The croup virus also survives on surfaces like toys and door handles. Children with croup should not share drinks or food with others.

It is best for children with croup to be quarantined for about three days to a week and stay away from preschool, day-care, and other activities that involve interaction with others.

Croup Cough Sound

Home Treatments for Croup

In most cases, croup can be treated at home. Even though the cough sounds terrible and is nerve-wracking, the following easy treatments will normally give your baby or toddler relief from that barking cough:

Go out into the cool night air – take your little one outside on a cool evening into the cold, fresh air for about 15 minutes or so. You could also open your freezer and let your child breathe in the cold air for a few minutes. Sitting next to an open window or underneath a ceiling fan is also helpful.
Sit in a steamy bathroom – take your baby or toddler into the bathroom, close the door, and run the hot water taps to build up steam. Stand in the steamy bathroom for about 15 to 20 minutes. The moist, warm air that your child breathes in will help a lot to reduce the inflammation in the air passages and allow him/her to breathe easier.
Prevent dehydration – make sure that your little one has plenty of fluids to help soothe his/her sore throat.

Breastfed babies under 6 months should feed more often and those older than 6 months should also feed more frequently, with sips of water in between feeds.

Babies under 6 months, who are formula-fed, should be given the normal amount of formula, but in smaller amounts, more often. The same applies for formula-fed babies over 6 months, but with sips of water in between feeds.

Babies and toddlers older than 1 year, should be offered water or a rehydration drink such as Pedialyte in small amounts, more often, if possible – like several sips every 15 minutes or thereabouts.

  • Keep your child in an upright position – if possible, keep your baby or toddler in an upright position by strapping him/her into a high chair or another seat, for the time that he/she is awake because breathing will be easier. During the night and at naptime, do not let your child sleep with pillows or anything designed to elevate his/her head, as this can be risky.
  • Try honey – give your child (as long as he/she is older than 12 months) a teaspoon of honey before bedtime to help soothe the sore throat caused by all the coughing. Honey should never be given to babies younger than 12 months.
  • Use a humidifier – have a cool-mist humidifier running in your baby’s room at night when he/she is sleeping. Make sure that you use distilled or filtered water and remember to clean the humidifier with a water and bleach solution every day.
  • Cuddles and comfort – your baby or toddler will not be feeling well when he/she has croup, and this is when cuddles and comfort go a long way to ease the situation. Your cuddles and comfort, together with songs and stories, will help to keep your child calm. Crying can aggravate breathing problems.
  • Fight the fever – if your child is one of the unfortunate ones to have a fever during the bout of croup, then ask your doctor to prescribe medication to help bring it back to normal.
Croup Cough Sound
Croup Cough Sound

The Bottom Line

Croup is an awful illness, not only for your child or toddler but also for you the parent, who has to watch your child suffering. If your child has croup, then using the above home treatments should give him/her relief in just a few minutes.

With the barking seal gone, your child will be healthy and content, and everyone will enjoy a good night’s sleep again.

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