Croup (laryngitis)

Share this page:

Croup (laryngitis)

What is croup?

Croup is an infection of the throat and vocal cords (or larynx), caused by a virus. When children younger than 5 years of age have the infection, it is called croup. In older children, it is called laryngitis.

How is it spread?

You can catch the virus that causes croup the same way you catch a common cold:

  • By touching the hands of someone who has the infection.
  • By touching something that has been touched by someone who has the infection.
  • By coming in contact with the virus in the air, after an infected person has coughed or sneezed.

What are the symptoms of croup?

  • It often begins like a cold, but then develops into a fever and cough.
  • The lining of the throat and larynx become red and swollen.
  • Your child’s voice gets hoarse and he develops a cough that sounds like a bark.
  • Breathing can become rapid, difficult and noisy.
  • Any activity that increases the rate of breathing (even crying or excitement) could make your child sound worse.
  • Your child may become tired because of the extra work it takes to breathe.

What can parents do? 

In most cases, croup sounds worse than it actually is and will clear up on its own. In severe cases, a child's breathing can become difficult and she will have to be treated in hospital. Antibiotics do not work because the infection is caused by a virus (not bacteria).

  • Keep your child as comfortable as possible and offer plenty of fluids.
  • Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever. Ibuprophen should only be given if your child is drinking reasonably well. Do not give ibuprofen to babies under 6 months without first talking to your doctor.
  • Clear nasal congestion with a bulb syringe and saline (saltwater) nose drops. 
  • Use a cool mist humidifier. Take your child outside if it is a cold day.
  • Do not give over-the-counter cough and cold medicines (which don’t need a doctor’s prescription) to children younger than 6 years old unless your doctor prescribes them, with the exception of medications used for fever. Read instructions carefully. Respect the recommended dose and do not give more often than listed on the label. 
  • See your doctor if symptoms continue or worsen. She might prescribe a corticosteroid (a medicine that helps to open the lungs) to help relieve the symptoms.

For cases of very mild croup, your child may continue attending a child care facility or school if she feels well enough to take part in the activities.

Talk to your doctor if your child:

  • Has a fever for more than 72 hours or is under 6 months old and has a fever.
  • Has rapid or difficult breathing.
  • Has a severely sore throat.
  • Has new or increased amounts of drooling.
  • Is refusing to swallow or experiences discomfort when lying down.

Source: Well Beings: A Guide to Health in Child Care (3rd edition)

Reviewed by the following CPS committees:
Public Education Advisory Committee

Last updated: December 2008