What you need to know

  • Croup is a harsh cough often described as 'barking,' that can sound like a seal.
  • Mild croup can be managed at home, if your child isn't struggling to breathe, but it can get worse quickly so keep an eye on your tamariki.
  • Antibiotics do not help croup, since its caused by a virus.
  • Take your child to a doctor urgently, or call 111 if they are struggling to breathe or wheezing when they are at rest.

Causes and symptoms 

Croup is caused by a viral infection and is common in children three months to three years. 

Your child may have the following symptoms, before the “croupy cough” starts: 

  • sore throat
  • fever
  • red eyes 
  • runny nose 
  • poor appetite 

Croupy cough 

  • A harsh cough often described as 'barking,' that can sound like a seal 
  • Hoarse voice 
  • Noisy breathing (also called stridor) – you’ll hear a harsh sound as your child breathes in 

Symptoms may become worse at night and a croup cough can last a few hours before settling, so your child can sleep peacefully. Often the cough will come back again during the next couple nightsDuring the day your child is usually well apart from the cold. Older children between three and eight years may have occasional croup, even when they don't have a cold.  

Croup is contagious for four to six days, until the fever settles. It spreads through the air through sneezing or coughing so keep your child away from school or day care until they are better.  

Treatment 

Antibiotics do not help croup, since its caused by a virus.

If your child has a mild case of croup, then you can manage it at home without medication. With a mild case of croup, your child will have the harsh, barking cough, but won't have noisy breathing (stridor) when they are calm or struggle to breathe. The illness usually last for five to six days. 

Here are some tips to manage mild croup at home:

  • calm your child using a quiet, reassuring voice. Your child’s symptoms can become worse if they are distressed. (You might need to talk a few deep calming breaths to calm yourself too)
  • cuddle them while holding them upright to help their breathing  
  • you child may enjoy you reading to them, singing or telling a story 
  • offer a drink to help with the cough 
  • croup often becomes worse at night, so your child may want someone to stay with them while they go to sleep.

When to visit a doctor 

Take your child to the doctor if: 

  • you're worried 
  • your child is under six months and has signs and symptoms of croup  
  • the croup doesn’t settle with comforting 
  • your child has mild croup that lasts longer than four days 
  • if wheezing (stridor) returns after your child has recovered from croup 

 Croup can get worse quickly, see a doctor urgently if your child: 

  • is distressed 
  • has difficulty breathing 
  • is breathing quickly, or grunting when breathing 
  • breastbone or the skin between their ribs sucks when they breathe in 
  • has stridor (wheezing) when at rest 

If you’re not sure what to do call PlunketLine anytime — we can help. 

When to call 111 

You should call an ambulance immediately if your child: 

  • is struggling to breathe 
  • looks very sick and becomes pale and drowsy 
  • lips are blue in colour 
  • starts to drool or can’t swallow 
  • has a change in their behaviour (becomes drowsy, agitated or delirious) 
  • has pauses in breathing 
Need free support or advice?

Call PlunketLine 24/7 on 0800 933 922