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Croup: My Kid’s Cough Sounds Like A Seal

I woke up in the middle of the night last night to sound of my son coughing. Within 5 seconds of being conscious, I recognized the familiar seal-like barky cough. Croup. Ugh. Some kids are just prone to croup, my son is one of them. Croup is just the name of the illness that causes this distinct barky cough. The sound comes from the swelling of the airway around the voice box (larynx). Naturally, it happens more commonly in really young kids (typically sub 5 years) because they have smaller airways to start with. Almost always it is caused by a virus and the most common offender is parainfluenza. (Not to be confused with influenza, for which you get a flu shot).

Croup is a typically a fall and winter illness (simply because there are more viruses lurking this time of year). And unfortunately, like all viruses, there is no cure.

So what to do?

These home remedies may help:

  1. Wrap your little one in a warm blanket and take him out in the cold night air. The cold acts like putting ice on the airway and decreases swelling (be patient though, your kiddo may cough more the first 30 seconds as a reflex to the cold).
  2. Go into your smallest bathroom with a shower. Turn the water on as hot as it will go and get the bathroom super steamy. Breathing in the steam can help break up the mucous and settle the airways.

When to see your doctor

See your doctor if your child makes a funny noise with breathing (like a throaty squeaking or whistling sound, called stridor) or seems to be struggling to breathe. Your doc will likely give your child a steroid (e.g. Decadron) to help with the swelling. Sometimes in an ER setting, a doc will use a breathing treatment with epinephrine (Note: it requires 3-4 hours of observation). As always, antibiotics don’t treat viruses and aren’t indicated in this condition.

I think, I better to go bed early tonight as I’m likely to be up again tonight (as croup tends to last a few days and is worse at night). Wish me luck!

-Photos courtesy of