You might hear people mention croup and not know, exactly, what it is. That’s not uncommon. At its simplest, croup is an croupinfection that causes swelling in the:

  • trachea (often called the windpipe)
  • larynx (often called the voice box)

It’s common and typically occurs in children ages six months to 12 years of age, with children aged one to three the most likely to become infected. Croup is usually caused by a virus, one spread through coughing and sneezing (although there is a bacterial form of the illness).

Other ways the viral croup can spread include:

  • dirty hands
  • toys that are shared (such as at a daycare)
  • shared drinking glasses and silverware

A common symptom of viral croup is a barky cough. Other symptoms can include a mild fever, wheezing, a runny nose, and hoarseness. If the barky cough turns into a harsh sound called a stridor, the noise will become high pitched and occurs when your child breathes in. If you suspect stridor, contact your doctor as soon as possible.

The website for American Family Physician says that mild croup can usually be treated at home. It’s important to keep your child calm (because crying can worsen symptoms) and to give him or her plenty to drink. Rest is also important. As far as medications, cough medicines don’t usually help, but Tylenol, Advil or Motrin for children can reduce fever and help with chest discomfort.

The Cleveland Clinic offers tips on what to do if your child is diagnosed with croup, such as:

  • no smoking in your house or around your child
  • a cool-mist vaporizer may help with symptoms, soothing dry, irritated airways
  • allowing enough rest is important
  • giving medicines just as your doctor describes

If symptoms worsen, contact your doctor.

The Cleveland Clinic also offers tips to help prevent croup from spreading. They include that you:

  • wash and dry your hands thoroughly after caring for a child with viral croup
  • wash toys between use
  • teach your child to cover his or her nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing
  • keep your child home from daycare or school when ill or if outbreaks are taking place
  • throw tissues away after use takes a look at the types of croup, divided up by its severity, and shares information about moderate to severe cases of croup. By this point, your child should be evaluated by a clinic or emergency department skilled in handling urgent respiratory conditions. “Severe croup,” the article shares, “is a life-threatening illness and treatment should not be delayed for any reason.”

Treatments of these cases of croup may include humidified air or oxygen, along with IV fluids if your child dehydrates. Dehydration can occur because of fever or because your child doesn’t want to drink fluids because of stuffiness and difficulty in breathing. With more severe cases of croup, medical professionals should monitor oxygen levels, skin color and alertness. In rare cases (less than one percent of children seen in emergency rooms for viral croup), a breathing tube is used.

Croup typically lasts three to five days, with the Mayo Clinic offering guidance on when it crosses over into an emergency room situation. Get urgent help if your child struggles to breathe or is breathing at faster rates than normal for him or her. Other warning signs include:

  • drooling
  • difficulty swallowing
  • blue or grayish skin around the mouth, nose or fingernails
  • anxiety and agitation
  • fatigue and listlessness