Most cases of croup are not severe and resolve spontaneously within 3-5 days. For these children, comfort and care in the home are the most important factors until the symptoms settle. While there is no indication for a specific treatment, there are various techniques that can be carried out at home to increase the comfort of the affected child.
Comfort and Reassurance
It is important for parents and caregivers to remain calm, as their emotions will also have an impact on the mood of the child. It can be helpful to provide comfort and reassurance to the child with activities such as cuddling or reading a book together. Crying can make it more difficult for the child to breathe, so parents should try to comfort the child or distract them with a quiet game.
Children with croup should be allowed to rest as much as possible because this helps their body to fight the viral infection that is responsible for causing croup. However, it is common for the cough to worsen at night when they are lying down. If this is the case, it might be wise for a parent or caregiver to sleep nearby the child so that they are aware and can take action if the symptoms take a turn for the worse. Opening a window to allow fresh, cool air to enter the room can sometimes be beneficial.
Sitting in an upright position can often help increase ease of breathing for children with croup. Parents and caregivers can assist with this by holding the child on their lap or in a chair in an upright position when they are having difficulty breathing.
Eating and Drinking
If they don’t have difficulty swallowing, offering the child something to drink can help soothe children. For infants, breast milk or formula is sufficient. For older children, a warm soup or frozen fruit pops can both be comforting.
If the child with croup has a fever, paracetamol can help reduce this, in addition to providing relief to any pain. Other over-the-counter medications for cold and flu should be avoided in young children. Additionally, prescription antibiotics will not help reduce symptoms as it is caused by a virus and not bacteria.
When to Seek Medical Aid
In rare cases, a child with severe croup symptoms may stop breathing completely. For this reason, it is important for parents caring for a child with croup to be able to recognize signs of worsened symptoms so that they can get medical help in an emergency situation.
Signs of severe croup symptoms include:
- High fever
- Rapid breathing and wheezing
- Difficulty breathing
- Sudden episodes of coughing
- Restlessness or anxiety
- Blue tinge to the lips
If a parent or caregiver of a child with croup notices these signs, they should take the child to the hospital for emergency medical care as soon as practicable.
A traditional home remedy commonly recommended for the treatment of croup is the use of a vaporizer. This was thought to improve symptoms due to the effect of the humidified air. However, this is no longer recommended as research has not established any benefits of using a vaporizer and children are more likely to suffer from burns due to the steam.
Reviewed by Susha Cheriyedath, MSc