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Croup - Diagnosing croup

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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A GP can diagnose croup by studying your child's symptoms, particularly the sound of their cough. They may also check your child's temperature for a fever and ask whether they have recently had a cold or viral infection.

In some cases, a pulse oximetry test may be carried out. This involves clipping a sensor onto your child's earlobe or finger, in order to determine their level of oxygen intake. The test determines whether your child is absorbing enough oxygen into their blood.

A throat swab may also be taken, in order to identify the virus or bacteria responsible for the condition.

Your GP will decide whether hospital admission is required or whether your child's croup is safe to treat at home.

You should not try to check your child's throat yourself, because it could trigger a spasm (sudden narrowing) of the airway. This could cause the airway to swell even more, making breathing even more difficult.

Ruling out other conditions

Although croup can usually be diagnosed by studying your child's symptoms. Your GP may want to rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms.

Other possible causes for your child's symptoms are:

  • an abnormality of the airway, which has been present from birth
  • an abscess in the tissues in the back of the throat
  • inhaled material
  • swelling of the deeper layers of the skin (angio-oedema)

In very rare cases, epiglottitis (inflammation of the epiglottis) or tracheitis (inflammation of the windpipe) can cause similar symptoms to croup. In these cases, however, your child will usually feel very unwell generally, rather than just having the specific symptoms of croup.

Differentiating these causes from croup may require further tests.

Further investigation

If your child is admitted to hospital with severe croup, or if treatment proves unsuccessful, further investigations may be needed to examine their neck and chest area for a possible obstruction.

An X-ray may be recommended if it is thought something may have been inhaled and is obstructing your child's airway.

Medical Review: August 13, 2012
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