I am currently in the middle of a croup marathon. While my oldest child is on the road to recovery after five days with the dreaded nightly terror, my youngest has just begun her journey. Croup is terrifying for most parents. However, by following a few simple tips you and your child can successfully get through a night of croup.
What is Croup?
Croup is a swelling of the voice box, windpipe and bronchial tubes. The swelling causes these tubes to narrow leading to breathing difficulties, raspy sounds when inhaling (called stridor) and the characteristic seal-like ‘barking’ cough. Most kids recover on their own from croup with at-home care within a week. However, sometimes a child may need medical intervention to open up their airways and make breathing easier.
Sleep When You Can
First, it is important to know that you are probably not going to be getting much sleep while your child has croup. Croup is always worse at night and most kids are awakened frequently by coughing fits and breathing difficulties. They may sleep fitfully, if at all. Croup symptoms usually peak on the second and third nights. Since you won’t be sleeping much at night for up to a week (especially if you have more than one child with croup), grabbing a quick wink whenever you can is vital to surviving when your child has croup. Nap when your child sleeps and during the day if you can. Now is not the time to try and get extra work accomplished. Do only the basics and sleep as much as possible.
Prop Them Up
Propping up your child’s head while they sleep can help them breathe more easily and prevent mucus from causing them to cough. While you certainly can prop up one end of your child’s bed, I found that having my child sleep with their head on a pillow propped on the arm of the couch works much better.
Keep the Cool Mist Flowing
Having your child breathe in humidified air can help ease their croup symptoms and allow them to get some sleep. A cool mist humidifier is perfect for the job. The mist will help loosen mucous and relieve some airway swelling. Put only plain water in the humidifier. Do not add herbs, essential oils, medications or Vicks Vapor Rub to the humidifier as these can further irritate your child’s airway and make croup symptoms worse. Make sure that you keep your humidifier clean. Empty it after each night’s use and dry it out completely. This will help prevent mold growth.
Especially on nights two and three, you will want to sleep near your child or at least within earshot when they have croup. This will allow you to closely monitor your child. Croup symptoms are worse at night, usually peaking in severity on night three. Although the illness is usually less severe than it sounds, pay close attention to your child. I have one child who weathers croup well with at home treatments. My other child needs to go to the emergency room for a steroid and breathing treatment every time she gets croup. It is important that I monitor her carefully on the peak nights in case she experiences respiratory distress.
Take Them Outside
Cool night air will usually relieve a croup cough quickly. Make sure you bundle up your child in a blanket before taking them outside. Usually five to ten minutes is all that is needed for your child to find relief.
Steam Up the Bathroom
Make your bathroom into a mini sauna for your child and watch their croup cough disappear. Turn on the hot water in your shower and faucets and let the steam fill up the room. Keep your child in the steamy room for fifteen minutes. The moist air should help relieve their croup cough by loosening the mucus in their airway. Hold your child upright and keep them calm. Tell them a story or sing to them.
Use Fever Reducing Medication
Croup cough often occurs in conjunction with a fever. Using fever reducing medications at night such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help your child sleep more restfully. Only use these medications if your child is over two years old. Never use aspirin containing medications when your child has a fever to avoid Reye Syndrome, a potentially fatal condition.
Don’t Be Afraid to Go to the Emergency Room
When in doubt, err on the side of caution and seek professional medical advice and treatment. A good rule of thumb is to call your doctor or visit the emergency room if you child’s croup symptoms do not improve after several self-care treatments for 15 minutes each. Your child will likely have recurring coughing attacks throughout the night. As long as the croup cough gets better, even temporarily, with treatments your child should recover. If your child has any severe difficulty breathing, call 911 or your doctor immediately.
Disclaimer: This article is intended for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of a physician or other medical professionals.