Croup (cont.)

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Is croup contagious?

Croup is contagious and is usually spread by airborne infectious droplets sneezed or coughed by infected children. When a healthy child inhales infectious droplets, symptoms can develop in two to three days. The infection can also be spread by infected mucus deposited on doors, furniture, toys, and other objects. A healthy child can become infected by accidentally touching the infectious mucus and transferring the infection into his/her mouth.

What are croup symptoms?

Viral croup can have two distinct presentations, both of which are a consequence of swelling of the vocal cords resulting in a narrowing of the airway. The more common variety has symptoms of fever (100 F-103 F), mild hoarseness, and sore throat two to three days after virus exposure. Quick to follow is the characteristic dry "barking seal" cough that may be associated with a harsh, raspy sound during inspiration. (This sound, called "stridor," has been noted to resemble the breathing of the Star Wars character Darth Vader.) The symptoms commonly last for four to seven days.

The less frequent presentation of croup is called "acute spasmodic croup." These children will appear totally well when put to bed at night only to awaken their parents in the middle of the night with the above described barky cough and stridor. Fever and sore throat are not noted in these children, and the symptoms commonly resolve within eight to 10 hours from onset, and the child appears totally well until this same acute onset recurs the following night. This on/off pattern may occur over three to four nights in a row and then morph in to symptoms more characteristic of the common cold -- mucus-like nasal discharge and a "wet" cough for several days.

These two different presentations are the result of the particular virus that has infected the child. Manifestations of croup vary from mild (common) to life-threatening (rare). The severity of symptoms is proportional to the amount of relative narrowing of the airway. The more severe the vocal cord narrowing the more effort is required to inhale. A severely sick child will refuse to lie down, demanding to remain in an upright position. They will show retractions of the skin above the collarbone and between the ribs with inspiration and may develop facial cyanosis. Apparent exhaustion and decreased respiratory effort are an indication of impending respiratory failure and are cause for immediate paramedic evaluation and transport to the emergency department of the closest hospital.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/4/2014

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