Croup is a viral illness affecting the breathing systems in young children.
It can be confused with asthma even by doctors, but croup has different causes. Initially the problem is in the larynx (voice box area) and the child will have difficulty when breathing in. This differs from asthma where the problem is lower down the airways and the difficulty is mainly in breathing out.
The common cause of this is a viral infection (usually parainfluenza virus). It causes swelling and increased secretions around the voice box resulting in a narrowing of the airway. The child may begin with the symptoms of a mild cough and cold and then develop a barking cough, harsh stridor (a noise mainly made when breathing in), and hoarseness. It occurs in children between 6 months and 6 years old, but usually occurs in children about 2 years old. The symptoms often start or gets worse at night.
The symptoms can be very alarming to the child and to the parents, but anxiety makes the symptoms worse, so it is important to stay calm and to try to calm the child. Without any medicine nearly all children will recover, but it is now well known that a single dose of a steroid, dexamethasone or prednisolone can be very effective in speeding up recovery. These can be taken orally or as an inhaled steroid or adrenaline.
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