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What is Croup?

Croup is an infection causing a partial blockage of air as it flows through the larynx (voice box). The noise can be very frightening, and your child's cough may sound like a seal barking. When your child breathes in you may hear a harsh, rasping sound, which is called stridor. The child's voice may be hoarse, too.

Croup may appear after your child has had a cold for several days. Croup is usually caused by a virus and may last several days. Sometimes croup comes on suddenly in the middle of the night. It may occur more than one time in a child's life.

Signs and Symptoms of Croup

Because your child cannot move air in and out of their lungs easily, you may see some of the following symptoms:

  • The hollow area beneath the child's Adam's apple in the neck may pull in
  • Your child's chest may pull in when their breathe in
  • Your child's face may be pale
  • Your child may look frightened
  • Your child's cough sounds like a seal's bark
  • Fever
  • Your child loses their voice (Laryngitis)
  • Your child has a whistling sound when breathing in (Stridor)

Stay calm. Croup is frightening to the child and parents. A crying, upset child tends to make the croup worse. Parents can help to relieve croup by being calm themselves, which helps to quiet the child. This relieves the tightness around the larynx and allows the child to breathe more easily.

Treatment for Croup

  1. Take your child into the bathroom and shut the door.
  2. Turn on the shower and hot water faucets to make steam. Be careful to keep away from the hot water. Cool mist will work, too, and is safer. If the mist seems to upset the child, stop and calm the child. You may also take the child outside to breathe in the cool night air.
  3. Sit with your child and let them breathe in the steam.
  4. Do not leave your child alone.
  5. Have someone start a vaporizer or a humidifier in the child's room. Continue to keep your child's room humidified, especially if the air is dry.
  6. When breathing is easier (10-15 minutes), give your child a popsicle. Later give them more clear fluids to drink. This will help keep the throat and airway moist.
  7. If your child’s breathing does not improve, call your child’s doctor or go to the nearest emergency room.

Seek Emergency Care / Call 911 If:

  • Your child's breathing does not improve after trying the home treatments for 15-30 minutes
  • Your child's breathing problem gets worse
  • Your child begins drooling
  • Your child has trouble swallowing
  • Your child becomes restless and cannot sleep
  • A bluish color is seen around your child's lips

Your observations of your child are important. Tell the doctor what you have seen and what you have done. This information will help the doctor care for your child.


  • Avoid milk and thick liquids. These will make your child's phlegm (mucus) thicker and make them cough more.
  • Encourage age-appropriate clear fluids: Pedialyte for children less than one year of age; juice for children over one year of age.


Activities such as coloring and looking at books together will help your child stay calm and quiet so they may breathe more easily.

Last Updated 03/2023

Reviewed By Julie Snider, RN

Visiting Cincinnati Childrens.

Cincinnati Children’s has primary care services at locations throughout Greater Cincinnati.