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Croup - Treating croup

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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Treatment of croup depends on how severe the symptoms are. Most cases are mild and can be managed at home.

However, if your child has severe croup, they will need to be admitted to hospital urgently.

Treatment at home

If your GP thinks your child has mild croup, they will usually recommend managing it at home.

This will often involve using children's paracetamol to help lower your child's temperature if they have a fever and ensuring your child is well hydrated by encouraging them to drink plenty of fluids.

Comforting your child is also important because their symptoms may worsen if they are agitated or crying. If your child is distressed, sitting them upright on your lap will help to comfort and reassure them.

Your GP will usually prescribe a single dose of an oral corticosteroid medication called dexamethasone or prednisolone to help reduce inflammation (swelling) in your child's throat. Side effects of these medications can include restlessness, vomiting, upset stomach and headache.

While there is little scientific evidence to support it, some people have found that allowing their child to breathe in steam from a hot bath or shower in a closed room has eased symptoms. Steam treatment should only be used under careful supervision as there is a risk of scalding your child.

You should seek urgent medical advice if you notice your child's symptoms getting worse.

Painkillers for children

Painkillers, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, are available in liquid form, which makes them ideal for young children. You can get liquid paracetamol over the counter from pharmacies and some supermarkets.

Children under 16 years of age should not be given aspirin.

Speak to your pharmacist or GP if you are unsure about what type of painkiller is suitable for your child.

Read more about giving children painkillers.

Cough medicines or decongestants do not help ease the symptoms of croup and should not be used. These treatments often have drowsy side effects, which can be dangerous when a child has breathing difficulties.

Hospital treatment

In severe cases of croup, treatment in hospital may be required.

Breathing problems, such as shortness of breath, are a major symptom of severe croup.

You should dial 999 immediately for an ambulance if your child is struggling to breathe.

If your child has severe croup, they will be given adrenaline through a nebuliser. This will help improve symptoms within 10 to 30 minutes and the effects should last for up to two hours.

If your child is very distressed and finding it difficult to breathe, they will be given oxygen through an oxygen mask.

As with milder cases of croup, oral dexamethasone or prednisolone will usually be given to help reduce any swelling in your child's airways.

In less than 1% of croup cases that require hospitalisation, a child may need intubation. During intubation, a tube is inserted either through a nostril or the mouth and passed down into the windpipe. This will help your child breathe more easily.

Intubation is usually performed under general anaesthetic. This means your child will be completely unconscious throughout the procedure so they do not experience pain or distress. 

Medical Review: August 13, 2012
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