Cold weather months are a prime time for coughs and colds, but they can usually be treated with at-home remedies. But croup isn’t just a cough. The sickness, characterized by a harsh, barking or seal-like cough, difficulty breathing, fever, and a stuffy nose, requires more than the typical treatment routine.
“Croup can be alarming the first time you hear it,” says Hazel Guinto-Ocampo, MD, chief of pediatric emergency services at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children and Bryn Mawr Hospital. “Don’t panic. Most cases are mild, so instead of heading to the medicine cabinet, try a few at-home remedies first.”
Exposing your child to moist air is the first step in alleviating croup symptoms. Take them into the bathroom and close any doors and windows before turning on a cool-mist humidifier or a hot shower for 10 minutes. Breathing in this mist can stop your child's cough. You can also try dressing your child warmly and taking them outside or for a drive with the windows slightly cracked.
What’s most important, says Dr. Guinto-Ocampo, is making sure to calm them down.
“As alarming as croup can be for parents, it’s even scarier for children. While you’re sitting with them, rub their back, read a book, start a game or their favorite show or movie on your tablet or smartphone…anything to distract them. Crying will make breathing more difficult,” Dr. Guinto-Ocampo says.
As with most illnesses, remember that rest and fluids will also help combat croup. Keep your child hydrated with liquids, or a soothing snack like soup or popsicles. Over-the-counter medications can help alleviate a fever, but read the package for appropriate dosing instructions.
Exposure to moist air, rest, and plenty of fluids should make the cough go away. If your child develops breathing difficulty, take your child to the nearest emergency department. Use your judgment if calling 911 for an ambulance is the safest and quickest way to get your child there.
Bryn Mawr Hospital is home to a pediatric emergency program with a dedicated team of hospitalists from the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children delivering around-the-clock care. To learn more about our pediatric emergency program, visit our website.