What Exactly is Croup?
Croup is a swelling of the windpipe that can happen when your child has an upper respiratory infection. It’s this swelling that causes the barking cough and the wheezing sound you may hear when your child breathes in. This is distinct from the wet, mucusy-sounding cough you'll hear when your child gets a virus or irritant down in their lungs.
Most of the time a case of croup starts as just a regular cold or a mild flu. A few days into their sickness your child may lie down and start a loud, raspy, barking cough, possibly with some gasping or wheezing in between. This is what’s often describes as the “seal bark cough.”
Croup: The Overview
- Who gets croup? It’s most common is babies, toddlers, and kids under six. Older kids can get croup, but it’s rare.
- What is croup caused by? Usually a virus like the flu virus or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
- Is it contagious? Sort-of. The viruses that cause croup can easily be spread from kid to kid. Not all kids who get these viruses will end up with croup, but it's always possible.
- How long does croup last? Croup will usually be over in 2-3 days, but it can last as long as a week.
- Is there a vaccine for croup? Nope, because croup isn’t from a specific bug. However, the flu shot could reduce your child’s odds of getting croup from the flu.
Signs and Symptoms of Croup
- A “seal-bark” cough, often worse at night
- Fever (usually under 104 degrees)
- Hoarse voice
- Stridor (a wheezing or gasping noise while breathing in)
More Serious Signs
- Constant gasping, with an anxious or stressed expression
- Weak, listless, uninterested in play
- Unwilling to lie down because of coughing or difficulty breathing
- Leaning forward and drooling because it hurts too much to swallow (this can be signs of an infection in the epiglottis and warrants a trip to the ER)
In other words, a serious case of croup will look really serious, and the odds are you’ll already be at the ER or considering heading over there if it gets this bad.
Eat organic as much as possible to get the best nutrients and avoid pesticides and herbicides, making sure they get plenty of vitamin A, B6, C and D, folate, copper, iron, selenium, and zinc (yep we may be talking about a kids multivitamin here, at least through cold and flu season).
A healthy gut is also essential for proper immune function: studies have shown that kids who take probiotics get fewer flus and colds, and recover faster when they do get sick.
Natural Remedies for Croup
Elderberry syrup (sambucus nigrans)
This is a great anti-viral herb, and it’s delicious to boot, meaning that it’s easy to get your kid to take. Elderberry is especially effective against the flu virus, but it slows the replication of many other types of viruses as well. It’s also an anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory, which can help with the swelling of the trachea in croup.
Olive leaf contains a phytochemical called oleuropein which is effective against a wide variety of viruses, bacteria, fungi, and even protozoan. Olive leaf can also be taken as a general immune booster throughout the cold and flu season.
Yep, this is a favorite among grandmas worldwide: raw, unfiltered honey has strong antimicrobial properties and can soothe an irritated throat and larynx. Put a teaspoon in hot water with the juice from half a lemon for a little flavor and an extra kick of vitamin C.
Humidifying the air can help reduce the dryness and raspiness of a croup cough. Most humidifiers have a feature where you can add essential oils. Good essential oils for a croupy cough can include rosemary, eucalyptus, lemon, and thyme.
There is a specific triad of homeopathic remedies that’s been used for croup for over 100 years: Aconite, Spongia tosta, and Hepar sulph. Typically it’s given like this:
- Aconite 12c or 30c: Given once every two hours on the first night of the cough.
- Spongia tosta 12c or 30c: Given once every two hours after the first day, when the cough becomes dry and raspy (the cough is often described as similar to the sound of sawing wood).
- Hepar sulph 12c or 30c: Given once every two hours in the last day or two of the illness, once the cough sounds a little more wet and mucusy (more like a normal cough).
A Note on Croup and Antibiotics