Croup Cough Sound: How To Recognise It And What To Do

Jo Kingsley
Feb 29, 2024 By Jo Kingsley
Originally Published on May 11, 2021
A common symptom of croup is a rasping sound, called stridor, when breathing in.
Age: 0-99
Read time: 6.4 Min

Here at Kidadl, we know how much parents have to think about when it comes to their kids!

From developmental leaps and fussy eating to sleep regression and starting pre-school, and all kinds of health concerns, sometimes it's easy to feel overwhelmed. But we're always here to help.

We've done the research and put together a comprehensive yet easy-to-read collection of resources to bring you the facts, as well as the support, you need to stay informed, relaxed, and in control. So whether you're looking for advice on the three-year-old check-up or new ideas for November preschool themes, you'll find everything you need in our articles.

If you're looking for the lowdown on your child's cough, this article is for you. We're talking all about croup: from the sound, including the baby croup cough sound and the infant croup cough sound,

What Are The Symptoms Of Croup?

Croup is a very common condition, experienced mainly by babies and young children aged between six months and five years. It's most common in children around 12 months old. Croup can sometimes affect younger babies and teenagers, and occasionally even adults, but these cases are much less common.

Croup affects the upper respiratory system, including the windpipe, the airways to the lungs, the voice box, and the vocal cords, so it has some easily recognizable symptoms.

Initially, your child is likely to experience cold-like symptoms, such as a runny nose and a temperature, with the more noticeable symptoms of croup displaying after a few days. A croup cough is quite distinctive, it's often likened to a barking seal! It sounds strange, but it's that barking cough that will help you to differentiate between a regular cough, cold, or chest infection, and croup.

Other key croup symptoms to look out for are: difficulty breathing because of a blocked airway; a high-pitched rasping sound, particularly when breathing in, which is known as stridor; and a hoarse voice.

Croup is usually caused by a virus and spread in the same way as the common cold. This means that it is contagious. It also means that it is not possible to prevent croup entirely. However, regular handwashing, using hand sanitizer, and sneezing into the elbow can all help to prevent infection and to reduce the spread. It is possible to catch croup more than once, and it is commonly caught in the late fall and in winter.

What Is The Croup Cough Sound And How To Spot It?

Croup is a common condition, most often experienced by children around 12 months old

The sound of a croup cough is very distinctive. Because croup affects various key parts of the respiratory system, including the airway to the lungs and the voice box, it results in a barking cough, just like a seal. This barking cough will also be accompanied by a harsh, high-pitched squeaky sound as your child breathes in, called stridor. This is the distinctive croup cough sound in infants.

Alongside both of these symptoms, you are also likely to notice your child experiencing some difficulty breathing. This is because the virus irritates the airways, causing inflammation or swelling, which causes a blockage and reduces the usual amount of space children have in their airways to allow them to breathe normally.

This is the reason that you will often find that your child's symptoms get worse at night. As the body’s natural steroid levels fall at night, the swelling caused by the virus will increase, meaning the airway becomes more obstructed and restricts your child's breathing. So if your child wakes suddenly in the middle of the night struggling for breath, try not to panic. This is, unfortunately, normal and you just need to manage the symptoms as best you can until your child gets better. It is this unique combination of symptoms that will help you, and your doctor, to diagnose croup. Of course, if you are ever concerned about your child's health, please do contact a doctor.

What Are The Croup Treatments?

Croup is a common and fairly mild condition and so can usually be successfully treated at home. There are a variety of different methods you can try to keep your child relaxed and to aid their recovery.

Cold air is a brilliant natural way to relieve the symptoms of croup. Using a cool-mist humidifier, sitting your child by an open window, or even taking them for a short walk in cool air if they feel well enough can all help to ease the coughing and help your child to breathe more easily.

Equally, moist air can really help. Try running the shower in your bathroom to create a steam room effect, which can help your child to breathe.  

As croup restricts the airways, it's important to keep children sat upright as much as possible. At night, use extra pillows so your child isn't lying flat. If your child doesn't like the feeling of extra pillows, or tosses and turns a lot at night, you can prop up the head end of their mattress instead, using rolled-up towels placed underneath the mattress.  

Because of their swollen airways, kids can often refuse food and water. Although swallowing can be uncomfortable and even cause some mild pain, it's important for parents to ensure water is still being taken in to prevent dehydration.  

As tricky as this can be, especially when you're dealing with younger children, it's also key to keep kids as calm and comforted as possible. Lots of shouting out in distress and crying is going to worsen the croup symptoms and result in more coughing and difficulty breathing. Which, in turn, makes kids more upset, it's a vicious cycle! So the more relaxed you can keep them, the better. Lots of downtime together, like reading their favorite story or watching their favorite movie, and plenty of cuddles are really going to help.

Your doctor may prescribe an oral steroid medicine to help reduce inflammation if needed. Cough medicines will not be effective, but you might find that ibuprofen is helpful, for pain management and to help ease a fever. Ibuprofen is also an anti-inflammatory, which can help ease swollen airways and aid breathing.

Most cases of croup are fairly mild and go away by themselves after a few days.

How Serious Are Cases Of Croup?

Most cases of croup are fairly mild, it is very rare for a child to die directly from croup. Usually, symptoms of croup go away by themselves after a few days. Sometimes symptoms might linger, but usually no longer than a couple of weeks. If symptoms do persist after this length of time, you should consult your doctor.

If your child is hospitalized with croup, they will likely be given a steroid medication and oxygen, through a mask, to help them breathe.

Although croup is pretty harmless for most kids, it is a respiratory virus and so sometimes it can be linked to, or result in, other illnesses. Occasionally, a secondary infection might develop which could lead to complications such as pneumonia, but this is not a common side effect.

Because croup affects the upper airway, the other cause for concern could be severe breathing problems or an obstructed airway. This may be particularly concerning for parents of children who suffer from asthma or other chronic lung conditions that could be aggravated by croup. If your child is having difficulty breathing, resulting in symptoms such as a high temperature, becoming unusually still, or turning blue, always call 911 or go immediately to the emergency room.  

If you found this article helpful, then why not take a look at some nanny contract samples or how to do the pick-up put-down method?

We Want Your Photos!
We Want Your Photos!

We Want Your Photos!

Do you have a photo you are happy to share that would improve this article?
Email your photos

More for You

See All

Written by Jo Kingsley

Bachelor of Arts specializing in Film and English

Jo Kingsley picture

Jo KingsleyBachelor of Arts specializing in Film and English

Jo is a versatile writer with a Bachelor's degree in Film and English from the University of Southhampton who is passionate about mental health and well-being, history, art, food and drink, and photography. As a work-from-home mom to two adventurous boys, she loves exploring local castles, museums, and galleries with them, and sharing her knowledge and interests through her blog.

Read full bio >