• Mayo Clinic Minute: What to do if your child has croup

Croup is a viral illness that the whole family can get, but it typically occurs in younger children. In this Mayo Clinic Minute, Dr. Robert Jacobson, a Mayo Clinic pediatrician, explains what parents can do if their child develops croup.

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If your child has a loud "barking" cough; fever; and noisy, high-pitched breathing, he or she may have a viral respiratory illness called croup.

"Croup is a narrowing of the windpipe, and for most of us, it doesn't cause the same symptoms as it'll cause a young child. For a young child with a narrowed windpipe, that's a big deal," explains Dr. Jacobson.

He says while croup usually isn't serious, it can be scary for children and parents.

"As they try to breathe in, their windpipe will actually collapse on them, causing them to panic, become fearful and try even harder to breathe."

Dr. Jacobson says most cases of croup can be treated at home.

"We'll take them into the shower to breathe steamy air. We'll take them out into the night air to breathe in the cold night air, and those things will usually allow the windpipe to relax and allow the air to flow."

The child's health care provider also can provide a prescription for a one-time dose of corticosteroid to be given by mouth early in the course of croup. It works in hours to decrease the inflammation in the narrow windpipe. If the fever lasts more than three days or the overall illness more than 10 days, have your child examined by his or her health care provider.

If home measures fail, Dr. Jacobson says that the child should be seen by a health care provider emergently. If you ever fear your child cannot breathe, call 911.

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