Pediatric croup occurs when the upper airway (nose and upper throat) swells, which causes a child to work harder to breathe. The resulting coughs sound like a distinctive “barking” sound.
An irritation in the upper airway can cause swelling around the vocal chords and wind pipe (trachea). The swelling reduces the size of the airways, making it much harder to for a child to breathe. The causes the child to cough, resulting in a distinctive "barking" sound since the cough is being forced through a narrow section.
Croup typically occurs in fall and winter and affects boys more than girls. A child can have croup at any age, but it happens more often in children under the age of 5.
Croup has several causes, including:
- Asthma and other breathing issues – these conditions are linked to recurring (repeated) croup, as children are more likely to have problems breathing if they also have other lung conditions.
- Irritants – can cause breathing problems any time of the year and happens when the child breathes in chemical fumes, cigarette smoke, smog or small particles.
- Spasmodic croup – caused by allergies or stomach reflux (GERD). It occurs suddenly and typically in the middle of the night (or when a child lays down for lengthy periods of time).
- Viral croup – a contagious virus that typically starts out with cold-like symptoms and a fever. Children can also develop a high-pitched whistling sound (stridor) when they breathe.
Besides a “barking” cough, other symptoms of croup include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Fatigue (tired)
- High-pitched wheeze
- Hoarseness (scratchy, raspy voice)
- Retractions (skin sucks in with breaths around the ribs)