Croup is a viral infection that affects your child's airway near the voice box (larynx) and windpipe (trachea). The virus makes this area red and swollen. This makes breathing difficult. Croup often goes along with a cold.

Croup most often affects infants to children age 6 years old. Your child can get croup more than once. Because this is caused by a virus, antibiotics won't help.

Symptoms are:

  • dry, barking cough (sounds like a seal)
  • noisy breathing while breathing in (stridor)
  • hoarse voice and sore throat
  • fever
  • your child's chest bones, ribs or both show when she breathes
  • cough gets worse at night and gets better and less barky during the day

How to make your child feel more comfortable

  • Take your child outside or open a window for 10 to 15 minutes. Cool air may help your child breathe easier.
  • If your child wakes up during the night with a cough and shortness of breath, take them into the bathroom.
    • Close the doors and windows.
    • Start a hot shower. Sit in the bathroom (away from the water) and cuddle your child.
    • The steam will loosen the mucus from your child's swollen airways.
    • Never leave your child alone in the bathroom while the hot water is on. Stay in the bathroom for about 15 minutes.
  • Give your child lots of clear liquids.
  • Use a humidifier with a cool mist. Use distilled water, if possible. Be sure to empty and clean the humidifier each day.
  • Keep your child away from secondhand smoke.
  • Treat your child's fever.

When to call your health care provider

Call your health care provider for an appointment if your child's:

  • breathing is not better after 10 to 15 minutes of breathing moist, warm or cool air
  • breathing is more than 60 breaths each minute
  • noisy breathing won't go away
  • nostrils are "flaring" or widening when breathing
  • having trouble swallowing or refusing to drink

When to call 911 or go to the Emergency Department

Call 911 or go to an Emergency Department if your child:

  • seems to be getting tired from breathing
  • has a bluish color to their lips
  • drools or cannot swallow their saliva
  • sits forward with their mouth open
  • panics because breathing is difficult

Related resources

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education, Guide for the Care of Children: Ages Birth to 5, sixth edition, ped-ah-91554
First Published: 02/01/2010
Last Reviewed: 11/16/2022