Croup - Treatment

Authored by Dr Colin Tidy, 16 Feb 2015

Patient is a certified member of
The Information Standard

Reviewed by:
Prof Cathy Jackson, 16 Feb 2015

What can you do to help your child with croup?

Always consult a doctor or nurse if you have any concerns about your child. A doctor will normally advise on what to do, or whether hospital admission is needed. The sort of advice your doctor may give is as follows:

  • Be calm and reassuring. A small child may become distressed with croup. Crying can make things worse. Sit the child upright on your lap if their breathing is noisy or difficult. Let the child find a comfortable position.
  • Lower the high temperature (fever). If a child has a fever their breathing is often faster and they may be more agitated and appear more ill. To lower a fever:
  • Give the child lots of cool drinks (if they are happy to take them).
  • Cool air. Some people find that it is helpful to have a stroll outdoors, carrying the child upright in the cool fresh air.
  • DO NOT give cough medicines which contain ingredients that can make a child drowsy. This will not help a child who may need extra effort to breathe. You may not be aware of all the ingredients of cough medicines and so it is best to avoid them altogether. There is no evidence anyway that cough medicines and decongestants help in croup.
  • Antibiotic medicines are not usually prescribed as croup is normally caused by a virus. Antibiotics do not kill viruses.
  • Steam used to be commonly advised as a treatment. It was thought that steam may loosen the mucus and make it easier to breathe. However, there is little evidence that steam does any good. Also, some children have been scalded by steam whilst being treated for croup. Therefore, steam is not recommended.
  • Do not make a child with breathing difficulty lie down or drink fluids if they don't want to, as this can make their breathing worse.
  • A steroid medicine such as dexamethasone or prednisolone is usually prescribed. Steroid medicines help to reduce inflammation. A single dose often eases symptoms within a few hours. Steroid medicines do not shorten the length of the illness but they are likely to reduce the severity of breathing symptoms.
  • Inhaled adrenaline (epinephrine) is sometimes used in hospital to decrease the swelling of the windpipe (trachea) for children with moderate or severe difficulty with breathing. Inhaled adrenaline (epinephrine) often improves croup symptoms 30 minutes after the treatment is given. However, the improvement usually disappears two hours after treatment.

Further reading and references

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