How to treat the symptoms of croup

Croup usually occurs in young children under the age of five. It is an extremely common ailment caused by a viral infection, much like the common cold, and can also similarly be spread through coughing, sneezing and contact with any infected surfaces. Most children will fully recover when the virus has run its course.

Croup symptoms

The croup virus causes inflammation of the windpipe and vocal cords, but the infection will usually present with cold-like symptoms at first. So if your child has croup, what may start as a stuffy nose, sore throat and mild fever will then develop into a hoarse voice, barking cough, and noisy breathing, especially when inhaling, which is also known as stridor.

The coughing and stridor are usually much worse during the night, especially when your child tries to lie down to sleep. Sometimes sleeping propped-up on pillows can help to ease the breathing

In most cases, croup begins to clear up within a few days, and you may visit your GP for advice or medication, but occasionally, symptoms become more severe. If at any stage your child is having trouble breathing, you must seek urgent medical attention.

Signs that your child is struggling to breathe:

  • Child’s ribs/breastbone suck inwards as they try to inhale
  • Struggling to settle or lie down
  • Severe stridor (Stridor can also be caused by inhaling a foreign object, or other more severe conditions such as epiglottitis.)
  • Difficulty eating, drinking or swallowing
  • Flaring of the nostrils
  • If your child’s lips begin to show any blueish tinges, or if they become limp, pale or drowsy, an ambulance must be called immediately.

It’s also a good idea to visit your GP if symptoms persist, or you notice any other breathing problems or health issues. Your GP will be able to diagnose a case of croup and may advise checks and observation in hospital for severe cases.

Treatment options

Most cases of croup can usually be treated in much the same way, and with the same over-the-counter medications as a common cold. Always be sure to consult your pharmacist and check dosages for the age of your child.

Try sitting or propping your child up if they are old enough, with comfortable pillows behind their back and head, and keep them relaxed and calm with soft music or their favourite comforters.

Antibiotics will not treat viral infections like croup, only bacterial infections.

In more severe cases your child’s GP may prescribe a short course of steroids to reduce the swelling in the respiratory tract. And in the rare case of admittance to hospital adrenaline may be administered while steroids have a chance to take effect.


As with the common cold, simply wash hands after sneezing, coughing and blowing noses, always disposing of tissues straight after use. Child-safe antibacterial wipes are very useful for surfaces and door handles, toys, books and anything that might be at risk of transfer from the bacteria.

At Cherry Bridge Station Early Learning and Childcare we adhere to the strict guidelines provided in the fifth edition of the government publication, Staying Healthy in Childcare. There are separate and detailed instructions followed by our educators and staff, and for the young children in their care.