What Is Croup Cough And How To Treat It?

The best way to explain what is croup cough is a viral infection that sounds like cough, but much worse. In terms of sound, a croup cough is a cough that sounds like the barking of a dog. The infection is more common during the fall and winter months, and seems like a harmless mild cold, and then gets more serious and severe as time passes by.

The problem is young patients, or toddlers and babies cannot talk and say what they are experiencing. This makes the croup more challenging to treat. And during the first few days of the illness, croup is contagious.

In terms of numbers, croup affects 3% of children per year and accounts for 5% of emergency admissions to hospital in children under 6 years old in America. The infection affects children between 6 months and 3 years of age, and most of the infections are caused by the human parainfluenza virus.

What Is A Croup Cough?

The common respiratory illness occurs in children and causes a change in breathing. Croup is accompanied by a hoarse voice and barking croup cough. The infection affects the vocal cords (larynx), the bronchial tubes (bronchi), and/or windpipe (trachea).

The illness can be either spasmodic or infectious. If it is infectious, then the respiratory illness is caused by a virus, germ, or bacterium. A spasmodic illness is triggered by an infection, not caused by an infection. Children are contagious for the first three days, and the symptoms are worse at night.

Symptoms Of Croup

The symptoms start same as the common cold, including a runny nose, nasal congestion, and fatigue. But as the disease worsens, the symptoms worsen as well. Here are some of the common symptoms:

  • Laryngitis
  • Stuffy and runny nose
  • Slight cough
  • Fever
  • Cough that turns into a bark of a dog
  • Stridor

In some cases, the symptoms might worsen to a severe level, which includes breathing faster than normal, flaring nostrils, abnormal sucking in of the chest and abdominal muscles, difficulty breathing, unusual restlessness or agitation, and a bluish color of the skin. No matter if it is infectious or spasmodic illness, a child will experience harder time breathing than usual.

Risk Factors And Causes

As mentioned previously, children aged between 6 months and 3 years are at higher risk of developing croup cough. The peak happens when the child is 24 months of age. Children who have asthma, or have been born prematurely are more likely to develop severe symptoms.

The main cause for the croup cough is the human parainfluenza virus (HPIV). The HPIV-1 is more common among children, but the HPIV-2 cause group can cause croup. You have to be careful about touching infected items and surfaces. The viral form is spread by airborne droplets launched by a cough or a sneeze by an infected person.

How To Treat It?

One thing to note at the beginning. Antibiotics will not help with croup. The reason is simple, antibiotics kill bacteria, and not viruses. And as we said previously, croup is caused by a virus, meaning antibiotics are useless against it. There are over-the-counter medications for cough and cold that will help. In some cases, a pediatrician may prescribe steroids like dexamethasone, prednisone, or any other that will reduce airway swelling. If the cough is too severe, physicians might even put the child on a breathing treatment.

The good news is that in most cases, croup cough is a mild illness that can be managed with home treatments. And with this, you are certain that no harmful compounds will enter your child’s system. More than 95% of croup cases can be treated with home remedies. Here are some of the popular remedies you can use. And they all come without the harmful side effects of over-the-counter medicine.


This is a remedy that works for both children and adults. Breathing in moist air helps with upper respiratory diseases, no matter what is the cause. If you want a quick result, go into the bathroom, turn the shower on highest heat setting, and shut the door. Sit or stand outside of the shower with the bathroom door closed. Breathe in the warm steam for about 10 minutes, and you will notice immediate relief.

Another way to use steam is to add a cool mist humidifier in the bedroom. The continuous steam of warm mist during the night will reduce coughing. And as we mentioned earlier, the symptoms tend to worsen during the night. A humidifier will make breathing easier.


We all know that drinking fluids helps with the common cold. It is a recommended treatment that will not produce immediate results, but it will produce results nevertheless. Keep a croup patient well-hydrated, with water being the number one option. If breastmilk is an option, give it to the babies. You can also use soups, broths, and coconut water for hydration.

We lose fluids during fever. And we need to replace those fluids so that our body can easily fight off the infection. Warm fluids are also good, especially herbal teas and soup. In addition to hydration, they provide nourishing compounds for our body.

Cold air

I know it sounds strange. Yes, it might sound counter-productive as well. However, for a quick and effective relief, make sure your child breathes in some cold air. The easiest way to do that is to go the kitchen, open the refrigerator door, and put your child’s face in front of the open freezer.

If the weather is cold outside, that would be another option. A 10 or 20 minute walk can help. You can also drive the car with the windows open.

Rest, rest, and more rest

Rest is essential for healing any disease and illness. What is important that you do let your child rest in a flat position. Make sure to put some pillows in the bed, and help your baby breathe easier. The trick is to raise the head, so that you allow natural mucus drainage. For babies, you can put some books under the crib mattress so that you create an incline.

Essential oils

When it comes to natural treatments, essential oils are always on the top of the list. You can treat almost any disease and illness with essential oils, croup included. Naturopathic pediatricians will recommend the suitable essential oil for your baby. Rub his/hers chest with essential oils diluted in carrier oil, and you will notice results. A homemade vapor rub is something you want to have at arm’s reach at anytime.

Create a calm atmosphere

Sometimes, the most important aspect of the natural treatment is to create an atmosphere that is calming for your child. Your baby needs comfort, and that won’t happen if you are not calm. The more you panic, the more your baby will suffer. Stress makes breathing worse, and increases the difficulty. So, keep your child safe and distracted with books and games so that he/she heals faster.

Emily Turk is a health blogger covering natural health and remedies.

See also:
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