Croup causes inflammation (swelling) of the voice box (larynx) and windpipe (trachea). The inflammation means the lining swells and more mucus is produced, causing a narrowing in the windpipe. As the voice box and windpipe becomes inflamed, a harsh cough develops, with hoarseness, difficulty breathing and there may be a raspy noise when breathing in (known as 'stridor').
Mild cases of croup can be managed at home but more severe cases of croup will need medication from the doctor. Because croup affects the airways, it can sometimes cause serious problems in children that requires urgent medical attention.
Call an ambulance 111 for emergency help if:
See a doctor urgently if your child has any of the following symptoms:
For further information and support talk to your doctor or practice nurse. You can also phone Healthline on 0800 611 116 for advice.
Babies and children 6 months to 3 years are at most risk of getting croup, but children who are younger or older can also get it. As children grow, their windpipe strengthens, lessening their chance of getting croup. It is common in the autumn and spring. Croup is usually caused by viruses. If your child has repeated occurrences of croup (more than 1 per year), or is under the age of 6 months or over the age of 6 years and gets croup, you should contact your doctor. Your doctor may arrange further investigation or refer you to a specialist to see if there is another cause.
Croup often starts like a common cold with slight fever, red eyes, sore throat and runny nose.
Some children can have a form of croup which comes on quickly, often at night, but also resolves after about an hour or so. These children may be more likely to already have asthma or to develop asthma.
The treatment of croup depends on how severe the illness is. Because croup is caused by a virus, mild cases will usually clear up on its own. You can use simple, self care measures such as those listed in the table below to keep your child comfortable. Moderate to severe cases need observation in hospital, often overnight.
Simple measures to keep your child comfortable
Croup KidsHealth NZCroup Asthma + Respiratory Foundation NZ