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Published by Bupa's health information team, November 2008.
Answers to questions about croup
This section contains answers to common questions about this topic. Questions have been suggested by health professionals, website feedback and requests via email.
Will my child need to go to hospital for treatment?
It depends on how serious his/her condition is.
If your child's airways are very blocked, it's possible that he/she may be admitted to hospital so the doctors can keep an eye on him/her for a while. This happens for about one in 10 children who have croup.
Your child may also be taken into hospital if you live a long way away or transport to the hospital is difficult. In addition, if your child's symptoms don't improve after treatment with medicines, it may be recommended that he/she stays in hospital. Occasionally, if your child's airways are very swollen, he/she may need to have a tube inserted directly through the voice box into the windpipe. Oxygen is supplied through the tube to help your child breathe.
Can I give my child cough medicine?
No, there is no evidence to show that cough medicines are helpful.
It's best not to give your child cough medicine as these haven't been shown to have any benefit. In addition, it's possible that they may make it harder for your child to breathe because they contain ingredients that may make him/her feel sleepy.
There is also no evidence to prove that decongestants are helpful in treating croup. However, you may find that giving your child painkillers such as soluble paracetamol helps to relieve the symptoms. Always ask your doctor for advice and read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine.
Are there other conditions that can be confused with croup?
Yes, there are a number of other conditions that have similar symptoms to croup. Some of these are more serious and will need urgent medical attention.
There are some conditions that may be confused with croup because they cause some of the same symptoms. There are certain things that can make it easier for you to determine whether your child has croup or if it's a more serious condition.
If your child has swallowed something that is stuck in his/her throat, some of the symptoms may be the same as those of croup such as coughing and difficulty breathing. However, unlike croup, if your child has something wedged in his/her throat, the symptoms will start very suddenly when the child was well seconds before.
It's possible that your child may have epiglottitis. This is caused by a bacterium, usually Haemophilus influenzae, and causes your child's epiglottis to swell. The epiglottis is a flap of tissue at the back of the throat that closes when you swallow so food doesn't go into your lungs. If it's swollen, it can cause difficulty with breathing.
Epiglottitis is rare since the introduction of the Haemophilus influenzae B (HIB) vaccination, but it's a serious condition that needs urgent medical treatment. There are some symptoms that may help you to distinguish between croup and epiglottitis.
- With croup your child's breathing will be loud and harsh, but breathing is often quiet with epiglottitis.
- Your child will look pale and very ill whereas often children with croup don't appear particularly unwell.
- The symptoms of epiglottitis come on more quickly than those of croup.
- Your child will find it difficult to swallow and will probably be drooling if he/she has epiglottitis - these symptoms aren't seen with croup.
Bacterial tracheitis is another condition that may be confused with croup. This is rare but your child will need treatment with antibiotics because otherwise the infection may lead to pneumonia (inflammation of the lungs) or blood poisoning. Bacterial tracheitis usually occurs in older children.
- Waterston T, Helms P, Ward Platt M. Paediatrics. Understanding Child Health. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997:373-375
- Bacterial tracheitis. Emedicine. www.emedicine.com, accessed 6 March 2008
This information was published by Bupa's health information team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been peer reviewed by Dr WH Simpson, MBBS, General Practitioner, and by Bupa doctors. The content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.
Publication date: November 2008