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Croup Symptoms and Treatment

Updated on November 08, 2009

The characteristics of croup include a seal-like barking cough, difficulty on breathing in, and excessive chest movement with breathing in a child. There is usually only a slight fever, and minimal pain in the throat.

Croup is caused by a viral infection of the throat, usually at a low level, so no abnormality is seen on examination of the throat through the mouth. The throat when examined by a mirror can be seen to be very swollen and partly blocking the airway. This is the cause of the typical cough.

The most effective treatment is placing the child in a warm, moist environment. The steam produced in a bathroom with a hot shower running is most effective, but commercial vaporizers can be used to produce steam in a bedroom. Other effective substitutes include a wet towel hung over an oil-filled space heater or a simmering crock-pot in the room. The other treatments required are paracetamol for any fever or discomfort, and adequate amounts of fluid to prevent dehydration. Antibiotics are not required unless a secondary infection develops. The vast majority of children recover spontaneously within a day or two. In more serious cases, a steam tent may be used in hospital to assist the breathing. Very rarely, the child may develop a severe degree of swelling in the throat that totally obstructs breathing. This is a critical emergency requiring life-saving procedures by a doctor.

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