Share on Facebook

7 Clear Signs Your Child Has Croup

When your child wakes you in the middle of the night barking like a seal, it can be unsettling. The distinct sound of the croup cough (dry, rattly, and seemingly painful) may cause parents to panic. But what is croup exactly? It is a cough caused by several different viruses that enlarge the tissue around the voice box, causing the unmistakable bark. Other croup symptoms are not dissimilar to those of the common cold and upper respiratory infections, so parents should observe their child carefully.


Barking cough

The most obvious sign that your child has croup is the croup cough. “The cough from croup is a very different sounding cough from other coughs. It has a dry, barky seal-like sound to it,” says Danelle Fisher, MD, chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. “It’s usually worse at night; kids can wake up in the middle of the night with this harsh-sounding cough.” (Find out the whooping cough symptoms you may be overlooking.)


High-pitched breathing

The croup cough is sometimes accompanied by a distinct sound called Stridor, which is a high-pitched sound that occurs when the child inhales to breathe. This sound may panic parents, but Dr. Fisher warns that keeping calm is important. “If mom and dad are panicked, kids will panic and the airway issues will get worse.” Instead, bring your child into the bathroom, run the hot water in the shower for 15 minutes while letting your child breathe in the steam. This will help soothe the inflammation and open the airways, calming the croup cough. Alternatively, bundle your child warmly and take them out in the cold night air. Breathing the cold air will shrink the inflammation.



Children who have croup usually have a fever, but it doesn’t top 104 degrees. If this fever continues for more than a week, visit your pediatrician as it is likely a bacterial infection has developed.


Hoarse voice

Croup symptoms are caused by an inflammation of the tissue surrounding the voice box, so a hoarse voice is a clear sign of croup. This is also what makes the croup cough sound so distinct. As the voice box is located below the throat, you cannot see the swelling by looking in a child’s airway. If your child can sleep comfortably, you can wait until the next morning when you should call your pediatrician.


Runny nose

Most cases of croup begin with runny nose and fever, not unlike the common cold. But if these persist and the croup cough develops, these are likely croup symptoms as opposed to merely a cold or the flu.


Heavy breathing and retractions

If the croup cough is more serious sounding and your child has labored breathing or retractions, which is the skin pulling between the ribs during breathing, your child’s croup symptoms may be need to be treated at the hospital. Call the doctor or bring your child to the emergency room for treatment. Dr. Fisher explains, “Bundle child warmly but have windows down for the cold air. Breathing treatments with epinephrine and also oxygen treatments are possible in the ER.”


Blue skin around the fingernails and mouth or nose

Blue skin means that your child is not taking in enough oxygen and needs immediate medical treatment. It is a serious sign of croup that the airway has been constricted enough to prevent oxygen, and you should calmly and quickly bring your child to the emergency room.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Newsletter Unit

CMU Unit