Almost everyone comes down with a little cough or cold during the winter. Over the course of an average year, Americans collectively suffer from about 1 billion colds. Children, who are often in close contact with others during school, sports, and daycare, tend to have about 6-10 colds a year. But if your child starts to develop a barking cough that mimics that of a seal, the culprit may be a viral infection called croup.

Although the powerful cough may make croup seem serious, most cases are easily treated after a diagnosis. In this blog, Gina Labovitz, MD, FAAP, of Ross Bridge Medical Center Pediatrics in Hoover, Alabama, explains what croup is and how you can care for a child who has an infection.

What is croup?

Croup is a viral infection of the upper airway, and it causes swelling around the voice box (larynx), windpipe (trachea), and bronchial tubes. This narrows the airway below the vocal cords and makes breathing more laborious.

A variety of viruses can cause croup, many of which manifest as the common cold. Children may come into contract with the virus by breathing in respiratory droplets or by touching their face after touching an object with virus particles on it. Children between 3 months and 5 years are the most susceptible.


People of all ages can come down with a virus that causes croup. However, children are more likely to suffer from croup because their small airways are more impacted by swelling. Symptoms of croup include:

  • Cold symptoms, such as sneezing and runny nose
  • Fever
  • Barking cough
  • Heavy breathing
  • Hoarse voice
  • Redness/rash
  • High-pitched sounds when breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Blue or gray skin coloring around the nose, mouth, and fingernails

Please seek immediate medical attention if your child is suffering from the last two symptoms above or starts to have trouble breathing, as these may be signs that your child’s swelling has hit dangerous levels.

Types of croup

Although most croup cases are viral, there is another more uncommon type of croup, spasmodic croup. This variant of croup is typically mild and recurring. It’s caused by allergies or stomach reflux and includes the same symptoms but without fever.

Diagnosis and treatment

Croup is easily diagnosed. Your doctor will listen to your child’s chest and examine their throat. Mild cases can largely be treated at home with rest and plenty of fluids. You may also want to raise their head when they sleep and use a humidifier in their room. Steroids and some inhaled medications can be used to treat more severe cases. Symptoms typically subside after 3-5 days.

Is your child feeling under the weather and in need of urgent attention? Come see the team at Ross Bridge Medical Center Pediatrics. We offer same-day sick visits for children who aren’t sick enough for the emergency room but can’t wait for a scheduled appointment. For nonurgent matters, you can book an appointment online or over the phone.


Our goal is for you to leave our office with a memorable and enjoyable experience, which is why our welcoming and compassionate staff will do everything they can to make you feel right at home.

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