Croup - Symptoms

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What are croup symptoms?

Viral croup may have two distinct presentations both of which are a consequence of swelling of the vocal cords and therefore narrowing of the airway. The more common variety causes symptoms of fever (100 F-103 F), mild hoarseness, and sore throat two to three days after virus exposure. The characteristic dry "barking seal" cough is soon to follow. The barking cough 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.

A less frequent form of croup is called "acute spasmodic croup." Children with this form of croup 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 completely resolve within eight to 10 hours from onset. The child then 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 transition into symptoms similar to the common cold -- mucoid nasal discharge and a "wet" cough for several days.

These two different forms of croup are the result of which particular virus has infected the child. Manifestations of croup may vary from mild (common) to life-threatening (rare). The severity of symptoms is proportional to the amount of relative narrowing of the breathing airway. The more severe the vocal cord narrowing the more effort is required to inhale. A severely sick child will refuse to lie down and demand 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 blueness (cyanosis). Apparent exhaustion and decreased respiratory effort are indicators of impending respiratory failure and are cause for immediate paramedic evaluation and transport to the emergency department of the closest hospital.

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See what others are saying

Comment from: 3-6 Female (Caregiver) Published: November 02

My daughter is 3 and she, gets croup at least 3 times a year, and she never has any symptoms, she is fine all day long no cough, no runny nose, no nothing, put her to bed and between 1 and 2 she wakes up and can't breathe, this happens every time, I take her out if it is cold out so she can breathe in the cool air, but the last two nights it has been in the 40's so I give her some coke (pop), and it opens up her air ways, I will always keep a 2 liter on hand just in case.

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Comment from: mom of_Tand_H, 3-6 Female (Caregiver) Published: January 27

My 5 year old went to bed fine at 7:45 pm and at 11:15 pm she has severe trouble breathing. She sounded odd and strange, struggling to get the next breath. It was scary, she had a 101.8 fever. Her face was nearly purple. I held her up for a few hours. Put a warm wash cloth on her and gave her Vicks vapor rub. She coughed and coughed more and more struggle to breath. At 4:00 am I was ready to take her to the ER. About that time she finally fell asleep on me. At 8:30 am she woke up and began the whole thing again. We went directly to our Peds. Dr. and he knew by what he called the barking seal sound that she had croup. He gave us steroids and to monitor her. It was very, very scary.

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