by Kimberly Allen, RN
Croup is a highly contagious infection inthe wind pipe and vocal cords as well as the bronchial tubes. Croup tends to occur in the fall through early winter. Approximately 15% of the children between 6 months and 5 years of age in the US will develop croup this season. Croup is responsible for approximately 5% of all pediatric hospitalizations every year in the US. Croup is also more common in boys than girls.
Most of the time croup is caused by a virus. The most frequent virus responsible for croup is the parainfluenza virus though it can also be caused by others including the RSV and adenovirus. Occasionally croup is caused by a bacterial infection. The bacterium most frequently responsible for causing croup is the staphlococcus aurea though it can also be caused by others including strptococcal pneumonia and hemophilus influenzae. Croup is transmitted the same as most other respiratory infections, in the moisture dropletsthat are in the aire we exhale. The droplets fall on the surrounding furniture, toys, and door knobs etc. Your child then touches the toy or whatever has been contaminated with infected droplets with his/her hands and the they touch their face and the contaminated droplets then go from their hands to their mouth, nose, and eyes infecting them. Not all children that come into contact with the viruses that cause croup will develop croup, most will develop a cold while some develop croup.
In the early stages of croup your child may appear to have a cold with a stuffy, runny nose and a mild fever. As the infection worsens your child’s wind pipe and larynx (vocal cords) become inflamed and swollen. The swelling and inflammation can cause your child to become hoarse with the characteristic barking cough that tends to sound like a barking seal. The barking cough can be harsh and frightening to both you and your child. However, the cough sounds more frightening than it usually is. Sometimes the swelling and inflammation can be severe causing your child to have increased difficulty breathing, he/she may make a high pitched sound when breathing known as stridor. Young children and babies tend to have a hard time swallowing and start drooling. They are aggitated and irritable as well. The inflammation and swelling can be severe enough to cause them to struggle to breathe and develop a bluish tint to their skin especiaslly around the nose and mouth as well as the fingernail beds. Some childrenalso have high fevers as well.
Most cases of croup are mild and can be cared for at home. Antibiotics are only effective if the infection is caused by a bacterium. Viral infections are treated with supportive measures and
symptom management. Using a cool air humidifier can help dissolve the sticky and dried mucous in your childs air way. It can also moisten the wind pipe and throat improving the hoarsness and cough. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help with the fever and pain from coughing. However, NEVER give aspirin or products containing aspirin to children. The most important thing you need to do is monitor your child’s breathing, especially at night. Should your child’s breathing worsen contact your Dr, your child may need to be hospitalzed and give humidified oxygen as well as fluids and medications like prednisone to reduce the inflammation.
The best way to prevent the croup is to take the same precaustions you would to prevent any viral infection. Frequent hand washing and use of hand sanitizers. Always cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow and teach children to do the same. And do not share drinking glasses or utensils. To prevent more serious infections keep your child’s vaccinations current as winter is the season when some of the most dangerous viruses are everywhere.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.