Croup in Infants: Caring for a Baby with a Respiratory Infection

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It’s a sound every parent dreads in the middle of the night – the sound of a barking cough that prevents a child from sleeping. Croup is a common childhood illness that causes a barking, seal-like cough that can be scary to parents but is rarely dangerous. Most cases of croup are caused by a virus or allergy so they cannot be treated with antibiotics. Simple home remedies can help alleviate some of the symptoms of croup. In more severe cases, a trip to the pediatrician or hospital may be needed.

Symptoms of Croup in Babies

Croup causes swelling in the voicebox and windpipe, which causes difficulty breathing and a harsh barking cough. The smaller the infant, the more he will be affected by swelling in his voice box and windpipe and the closer he must be watched.

Croup often gets worse at night. Many cases of croup start off as a minor cold but the infant wakes up in the middle of the night with a barking cough that sounds like a seal and may make a wheezing sound as he breathes. A baby suffering from croup may or may not have a fever.

Treatment of Croup in Babies

Most cases of croup will resolve without medical attention. Croup is rarely serious but it can often last for up to 7 days. Infants will often wake in the middle of the night when croup symptoms increase. Take your coughing baby into the bathroom and turn the shower on hot. Shut the bathroom door and allow the bathroom to fill up with steam. Hold your baby in the bathroom and allow him to breath in the warm, moist air. This will generally help your infant to breathe better. The cough will continue but it is important to remember that the cough is helping to move mucous from the lung.

Cold air can often help infants to breath better when they have croup. Bundle your baby up warmly and take him outside in the cold air for a few minutes. A cold air humidifier in your infant’s bedroom can help your baby to sleep better at night until he is feeling better. Never give a child under the age of 6 any kind of cough or cold medicine. Basic cold treatments such as drinking fluids, using a humidifier, and breathing steam will help your baby much more than giving your baby potentially dangerous medicine.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Any respiratory illness in an infant needs to be watched closely. If your baby is struggling to breath, has blue fingernails or lips, or is acting unusually lethargic you need to take him to the emergency room immediately. Because breathing in cold air can help your baby breathe better when he has croup, it is not uncommon for a baby to be feeling much better by the time he arrives at the hospital after breathing in the night air. Your infant’s pediatrician may be able to help by providing breathing treatments and checking for more serious medical issues.

Most infants and toddlers will have croup several times. While croup can be scary for new parents, it is not generally dangerous. Being aware of common croup symptoms in infants and knowing when to take your baby to the doctor can help your child start on the path to recovery as soon as possible.