As parents, we know that sleepless night can happen. Whether it’s a knock on the bedroom door in the middle of the night because of a nightmare, or a sleepy-eyed child that can’t sleep due to a bellyache, we tend to sleep with one eye (and one ear) open and alert. When illness strikes upon our little ones, it can be heartbreaking. Croup is a common respiratory problem that generally occurs in younger children, often during the nighttime hours and in the fall and winter months. The main symptom typically is a jarring sound that no parent wants to hear: a harsh, barking cough that sounds awful, making breathing difficult in the child. But stay calm! Here are some tips from WebMD and our office explaining what you need to know if you suspect your child has croup.
Croup usually happens within a few days of your child having cold symptoms. The same virus that causes their cold usually brings on croup. It is contagious, so keep siblings and family members separated as much as possible and sanitize the surroundings to decrease the chances of passing on the virus. Germs are passed on by close contact, sneezing and coughing, similar to the common cold. The good news? Croup is rarely serious. Additionally, older children with more mature windpipes and lungs usually do not become sick with croup.
Croup occurs because the airways of the child narrows, causing that awful “barking cough”. It sounds more harsh and raspy than a normal cough. Children also have more labored breathing during the daytime hours, may breath faster or prefer to keep their head elevated so they can breath more comfortably. Unfortunately, symptoms of croup get worse at night for that very reason: lying down can irritate the airways, causing the croup cough. Generally, a child suffering from croup seems better during the day and can be even be fever-free. The illness can last up to 5 days.
Our doctors and staff can generally diagnose croup by discussing your child’s symptoms along with a physical exam of your young one. Even hearing the cough over the phone can help determine if it’s croup because the cough has such a distinct sound! Sometimes a pulse oximeter is used on your child’s finger or toe to check how much oxygen is reaching the blood.
Once your child is diagnosed with croup, the best thing to do for your child is to comfort them if they lie awake at night with a barking cough. A croup cough is very uncomfortable and can be scary for young children, so by helping them stay calm and tear-free it keeps their windpipes from swelling even more. Hot showers that create steam can help, so try running a hot shower and let the steam engulf the restroom while you snuggle outside the shower door. Cool air has also been known to help, so bundling them up and having them go outside for 10 minutes with you may ease their discomfort as well. Running a humidifier at night has also proven to be successful at easing the symptoms of croup. Cough medicines on the other hand have NOT been proven to be effective at treating croup. If the coughing worsens or does not improve after 30 minutes of at-home treatment, it may be necessary to contact the Association of Childcare Physicians exchange at 314/286-2530 if after hours. Severe difficulty in breathing may also warrant a trip to the ER.
By keeping your child hydrated during the day and away from smoking in the home, you are on your way to a healthier, croup-free household! A flu shot each year can also help prevent your child from becoming victim to the barking croup cough as well as other seasonal viruses that can contaminate your healthy home…taking away from a restful night’s sleep. If you have more questions about croup or its remedies please contact Dr. Shaw or Dr. Kellow for further information. For more information on the Association of Childcare Physicians, LTD., call 618-235-2311 or visit our website.