A Look At Croup Cough and How To Treat It

What is Croup Cough?

Coughing is a natural reflex of the body that can be voluntary or involuntary. Voluntary can be controlled and can happen at will. On the other hand, involuntary coughing is the one that we do not have control of, and just happens on its own.

Croup cough is a kind of cough that affects children, but most commonly those who are 6 months to 3 years old. It can also affect small children with small airways.

Croup is the inflammation of the larynx, trachea and the major bronchi. They all aid in normal breathing pattern, and when they become inflamed, breathing is affected.




What Causes it?

There are many factors that cause coughing. When there are irritants (such as dust, smoke, chemicals, fur and feathers) that enter the airways, it can cause an allergic reaction. These foreign objects do not belong to our body and therefore, the reaction is to get rid of it by coughing it out.

Image from Flickr Torsten Mangner

  • Another cause of coughing is an underlying illness like a peritonsillar abscess.
  • Virus – before it was the H. Influenzae virus, but due to the vaccine developed against it, the percentage rate of croup cough dropped. However, the virus nowadays causing croup cough is the Parainfluenza Virus.

What are the Signs and Symptoms?

With croup cough, children usually have a mild upper respiratory tract infection. However, during the night time it will develop into a loud barking cough. The other signs and symptoms of croup cough are:

  • Hoarseness of voice.
  • Swelling and redness of the larynx, trachea and major bronchi.
  • Pain when swallowing – can lead to decreased appetite, loss of weight and dehydration.
  • Stridor – loud respiratory sound that can be assessed by using a stethoscope (medical device for listening).
  • Altered breathing pattern – there is a remarkable chest effort exerted during inhalation. Chest retractions are easily noted. Difficulty of breathing may also be present, and because of this, the sleeping pattern may be disturbed. Other breathing problems can be panting and grasping of breath.
  • Vital signs – blood pressure, breathing and pulse rate may increase when there is croup cough. Temperature may also be elevated.
  • Fatigue – coughing can be exhausting, and sleep is altered. The energy level is low, and might be a hindrance to daily activities.
  • Cyanosis (bluish nails, lips or face) – a danger sign of croup cough that requires urgent medical action. This means that there is insufficient supply of oxygen. Pulse oximeter is a device used to detect the oxygen supply in the blood. In this severe symptom, the pulse oximeter will reveal less than 90% oxygen supply.


How is it Diagnosed?

The following are the basis for diagnosing croup cough:

  • Medical history – diet, medications, lifestyle, allergies, underlying medical illnesses, therapies and other treatments are all recorded. Family members who are smoking, or those living with the child.
  • Physical examination – includes weight evaluation, vital signs (like blood pressure, pulse rate, breathing rate and temperature and pain scale). Assessment of the throat and chest are performed. A tongue depressor will be used to get a clear view of the throat. The front chest and the back will be auscultated (to listen) using a stethoscope for any abnormal sounds. Usually, a stridor sound is detected in croup cough. It is a high pitched sound that indicates obstruction in the airways.
  • CBC (Complete Blood Count) – to determine the levels of WBC (White Blood Cells). An increase in this means infection that can aid the doctor in determining the strength of the antibiotic he will prescribe.
  • Urinalysis – to check for the urine’s specific gravity to determine if there is adequate hydration.
  • Chest X-ray – an imaging test that prints out the structure of the lungs. Any fluid accumulation in the lungs is also detected.


How Can I Treat it at Home?

The interventions you can do at home for croup cough are as follows:

  • Steam can aid in making the airways bigger (or dilated). This can provide better breathing.
  • Get adequate rest.
  • Increase fluid intake to avoid dehydration. Water will also help in clearing the throat of secretions and help decrease temperature if there is fever. On the other hand, warm drinks (like ginger tea, or lukewarm water) can relieve pain in the throat.
  • Deep breathing exercises can help in chest expansion, allowing sufficient oxygen to be inhaled in the lungs and transported to the whole system.


What are the Medical Remedies?

  • Antibiotics – to get rid of the virus and other microorganisms causing croup cough. Indicated also to stop their growth and prevent them from spreading to other organs.
  • Antipyretics – to normalize body temperature.
  • Pain killers – to reduce the pain scale and give comfort to the patient suffering from croup cough.
  • Expectorants – if there are secretions, this is given to help excrete the phlegm out to allow good lung expansion.
  • Antitussive – indicated for a cough without phlegm. Prescribed to suppress the cough.
  • Intravenous therapy – if oral medications were not effective and if immediate relief is needed, intravenous therapy is given for fast-acting hydration.


Coughing obviously can affect the breathing and should not be ignored, and therefore you should seek consultation right away with your medical doctor.