Croup (cont.)

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How is the diagnosis of croup established?

Most often, the diagnosis of croup is made by obtaining the characteristic history of sudden-onset of hoarse voice, barky cough, stridor during inhalation, and the possibility of low-grade fever. While the child may appear rather ill, the child does not have a look of pure panic or terror. There can be high fever (> 103 F), sitting forward positioning, and excessive drooling. A recent exposure to another child with croup helps to confirm the diagnosis.

What is the treatment for croup?

Croup can be frightening for both children and parents. Therefore, comforting and reassuring the child is the first step. Breathing difficulties can develop and worsen rapidly. Close monitoring of the child is important during the early phases of the illness.

To help the child breathe more comfortably, a cool or warm mist vaporizer can be placed near the child. The humidified air promotes reduction of vocal cord swelling and thus lessens symptoms. To avoid accidental burns, hot water vaporizers should be out of the reach of infants and toddlers. Also effective is having the child breathe in a bathroom steamed up with hot water from the tub or shower. When cough or stridor worsens at night, 10 or 15 minutes sitting or driving in the cool night air can also help the child breathe.

In infants and children, blockage in the nasal passages from mucus can further impair breathing. Careful instillation of saltwater nose drops (¼ teaspoon of table salt in 1 cup of water) into the nasal openings every few hours, followed by gentle suction using a bulb syringe, can be helpful in opening nasal passages.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding most combination cough and cold medicines. Several studies show that these medicines are ineffective in children. They can potentially cause side effects that could lead to more serious symptoms. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) are helpful for pain relief and fever. Aspirin is avoided in the treatment of croup and other viral illnesses since aspirin is suspected as being related to Reye's syndrome. Reye's syndrome is a serious illness that causes kidney, liver, and brain damage, which can lead to the rapid onset of coma. Occasionally, oral cortisone medications are prescribed for more severe cases of croup. Because a virus usually causes croup, antibiotics are reserved for those rare occasions when bacterial infections cause croup or become superimposed on the viral infection.

Even though plenty of fluids are encouraged to avoid dehydration, forcing fluids is generally unnecessary. Popsicles are a popular means of providing fluid. Activity should be restricted to quiet play during the first days of the illness.

Children with croup are most contagious during the first days of fever and illness. Infection spreads easily in a household. Other children in the family will often develop a sore throat or a cough, without necessarily developing the croupy cough and stridor seen in croup. Infants and children may return to school or day care when their temperature is normal and they feel better. A lingering cough can last another two weeks but should not be the reason to keep them at home.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/4/2014

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