It’s that time of year again, when coughs and colds are on the rise, and it feels like everyone is permanently sniffling, or just wants to be tucked up in bed.
But if your child has a ‘barking cough’, they may not have just come down with a run-of-the-mill cold, it could be a sign of a childhood condition known as croup.
Would you know what symptoms to look out for, and what to do in order to have your child treated? We’ve answered the most commonly searched questions.
What is croup?
According to NHS Choices, croup is caused by a virus that affects the windpipe, the airways to the lungs and the voice box (larynx).
The virus usually affects young children aged between six months and three years, with most cases occurring in one-year-olds. However, it can sometimes develop in babies as young as three months, and older children up to 15 years of age.
The condition tends to affect more boys than girls, and is more common during the late autumn and early winter months.
A child may experience croup more than once during childhood. Adults can also get croup but this is rare.
What are the symptoms of croup?
Typical symptoms of croup include a bark-like cough, which can sound “alarming” according to Dr Helen Webberley, who runs My Web Doctor.
“The bark of croup often sounds worse than it actually is,” she explained.
The other primary symptoms are a hoarse or croaky voice and difficulty inhaling.
Your child may also make a harsh grating sound when they breath in, which is known as “stridor”. This is likely to be most noticeable when they are crying or coughing.
And all symptoms are likely to get worse at night.
In the days leading up to getting croup, you might notice your child has cold-like symptoms such as runny nose, sore throat and high temperature.
How is croup treated?
There is no cure for croup, so in most cases, it will be diagnosed by your GP and then your child will be sent home to recuperate - sometimes after being given a single dose of medication called dexamethasone or prednisolone to help reduce swelling in their throat.
Your child should be treated in the same way as with a standard cold. So follow your GP’s advice about whether to use children’s paracetamol to ease any pain and help lower your child’s temperature if they have a fever.
Ensure your child drinks plenty of fluids to keep them hydrated and comfort them if they are upset, as their symptoms may get worse if they are agitated or crying.
Well hydrated children will start to feel better in just 48 hours.
However sometimes croup can become more serious (indicated by struggling to breathe or prolonged periods of coughing) and medical help could be required.
How do you know when croup is more serious?
If your child starts to have real difficulty breathing you should then take them to the nearest hospital’s accident and emergency (A&E) department.
“If your child is struggling to breathe or floppy and unwell, then you should get them checked out as soon as possible,” said Webberley.
“If they are playing happily and are generally well in themselves, but just have a snotty nose and a noisy barking cough, then they are probably fine.”