Baby Health

What to Do When that Croupy Cough Strikes Your Kids

It’s mid-winter, so you know the stakes are high. Then you hear it, that unmistakable croupy cough that sounds like a seal.

Wait, maybe you’re imagining it. You stop what you’re doing and listen more intently.

Your heart thumps in your chest. Please say it isn’t so. There it is again. Damn!

As a parent of a ‘croupy’ child, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

One simple cold and it’s all over. Sayonara my friends. Say goodbye to any plans you had for the next week.

You shake your head in disbelief and wonder where to start first in your toolkit of medical supplies.

How do you know if it’s croup?

My Small Person has suffered from croup since she was around four months old. When we turned up at the doctor, desperate for answers, he put my tiny bub on an inhaler. She’s now seven and we’re still not out of the woods.

We’ve tried everything, from Vicks on her feet at night, to humidifiers in her room, blasts of cold air … and the big guns, steroids.

Fortunately, we’ve only ever had one hospital visit, but I know for many parents they are par for the course with croup.

Nights blend into days, as you sleep in your little one’s room night after night with him or her propped against you, trying to stop their head from flopping forward as they desperately try to catch some sleep amidst the rampant coughing, which sometimes ends in vomiting, they’ve coughed so much.

You’re at your wits end and if you’re like me, it tears your heart out.

Generally, it begins like a normal cold, you know, fever, runny nose etc.. but the clincher is, without warning the cough changes to become harsh and bark-like, often in the dead of the night.

How do you know if your child needs urgent medical attention?

When your child breathes in they make a squeaky, high pitched noise which is called stridor. In severe cases, the skin between the child’s ribs or under their neck may suck in when they breathe, and they may struggle to breathe. In this case, you should seek medical help immediately.

What causes croup?

Generally, croup is caused by a viral infection which leads to the swelling of the voice box or larynx and wind pipe, making the airway narrower and therefore it’s harder to breathe. Some kids are more prone to croup, with narrower airways or possibly predisposed.

It usually affects children between six months and five years old, but can take longer for some – like my child – to grow out of it.

There is also a second, rarer type of croup called spasmodic croup. This is not caused by a viral infection, but rather irritation and inflammation of the throat and voice box (vocal cords) from either an allergy or from the acid in the stomach coming up into the throat when the child is lying down. This type of croup can recur and doctors say it’s similar to asthma and often responds to allergy or reflux medicines.

What to do if they’re having a mild attack?

The important thing is don’t panic. More often than not, the cough has more bark than bite.

And, most importantly, try to keep your child calm. Distress and crying will only make the coughing worse.

Apart from an oral steroid like dexamethasone or prednasilone, which are administered by a doctor and work quickly to reduce the swelling of the airway, there’s not a lot you can do but ride it out.


Can home remedies help?

We’ve tried absolutely everything but for us, there are some tried and true home remedies.

  • First up, if they have fever, Panadol or Nurofen.
  • Plenty of fluids to keep them hydrated and comfortable.
  • Prop them up on pillows as it tends to be worse when they’re lying flat on their back.
  • A bowl of hot water with a dash of eucalyptus oil in it and a towel over their head so they can breathe it in for a few minutes can soothe the airways and help with the incessant coughing.* Obviously be very careful with the boiling water.
  • A nebuliser can often help open their airways as well. When we lived overseas and access to doctors was limited, we invested in our own nebuliser.
  • Vicks on the soles of their feet with socks on.
  • If you think it’s Spasmodic Croup, allergy medicine may help.
  • A blast of cold, fresh air outside.
  • Humidifiers to add moisturiser to the room or alternatively, turning on the shower and closing the doors so it steams up the room.

*Note: Doctors no longer advocate humidifiers or steam, saying research shows both are of little benefit.

How long does croup last?

Croup is a reaction to a virus, not a virus in itself, so children cannot ‘catch’ or spread croup and unfortunately antibiotics generally don’t work. It’s also believed cough and cold medicines have little effect on croup.

It should clear up within a few days, but I hate to be the bearer of bad news – a croupy cough can last up to a week (at least), forcing everyone to down tools.

No matter what, stay calm and remember you’re not alone. And mums, here are a few tips to survive on minimal sleep!

If colds and flus are troubling your family this winter, be sure to find out more on how a warm steam vaporizer can really help keep them at bay in your home!

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