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What is croup?

Croup is a general term applied to symptoms resulting from swelling of the larynx (voice box).

It is commonly caused by a viral infection and occurs mainly in the autumn and winter months.

Young children between the ages of 3 months and 3 years are affected. It tends to affect boys more than girls.

What are the symptoms of croup?

Symptoms usually come on quickly and can include:

  • a barking cough
  • hoarseness
  • a harsh noise when your child breathes in (known as stridor)
  • fast breathing
  • difficult and laboured breathing accompanied by
  • restlessness and irritability

Will my child need to come into hospital?

These symptoms may become worse at night or when your child is active. Depending on how bad your child’s symptoms they may be well enough to stay at home or may need admitting to hospital.

Although your child may still have a barking cough and sound quite hoarse, providing that they remain well in themselves, their breathing isn’t too laboured and they are taking and tolerating adequate amounts of fluid they will be discharged home.

Your child may be given a single dose of a steroid medication called ‘dexamethasone’, which helps to reduce both inflammation and swelling enabling your child to breath more easily.

What should I do after my child is discharged home?

Once discharged the following measures will help to manage your child at home:

  • Encourage oral fluids – offer small amounts frequently to ensure your child remains adequately hydrated.
  • Give them paracetamol (in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions) this will reduce their temperature (if they develop one) and help them to rest and sleep should they be restless or irritable.
  • Take your child outside into the cool air or open a window to relieve coughing spasms.
  • Stay calm and reassure your child – symptoms may be worse if your child is crying or distressed.

It is important that you observe your child for any deterioration in their condition.

Severe symptoms may include:
  • Loss of colour with a blue tinge around the lips and mouth (cyanosis)
  • Becoming very irritable or sleepy
  • Severe ‘pulling in’ (retractions) of the muscles in the neck, chest and abdomen

Should your child develop any of the above symptoms then seek help by contacting NHS 111. Call 999 if your child has severe symptoms.

Useful links

You can find more information about croup here:

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Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

Resource number: ED9

Resource Type: Article

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