Croup is a word used to describe an illness of the respiratory system (the organs involved in breathing) in children. It occurs when the upper airway narrows from inflammation caused by a viral infection (like the flu). The narrowing makes it harder for air to enter the lungs and can make it difficult to inhale. Croup causes a cough that sounds like a “seal bark.” Only about 3% of babies 6 months to 3 years of age develop croup.

Croup is contagious. It can spread through coughing, sneezing and mucus droplets. Babies with croup are considered contagious for three days after the croup begins or until the fever is gone.

Signs of croup

  • A baby with croup may have some or all of these symptoms:
  • Fever ranging from mild (100.4°F) to very high (104°F)
  • Harsh, seal-bark cough
  • High-pitched, noisy breathing (called stridor)
  • Faster breathing
  • Rash
  • Eye redness (conjunctivitis)
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Tiredness
  • Fussiness

Croup can range from very mild, to moderate or severe. Call your provider if you think your child has signs of croup. Your provider will examine your baby, make a diagnosis and provide treatment. Your provider may recommend things you can do at home to help treat your baby’s symptoms, such as:

  • Give your child warm, clear fluids to loosen mucus on the vocal cords. Warm water, apple juice or lemonade are safe for children older than 4 months. Frozen juice popsicles are OK, too.
  • Avoid smoking in the home. It can make the cough worse.
  • Keep your baby in an upright position. If possible, lift the top of the mattress. Do not use pillows with infants younger than 12 months of age.

You may want to sleep in the same room as your baby so you will know if your baby is having a hard time breathing. If symptoms are severe and seem to be getting worse, go to the emergency room or urgent care right away.