Your toddler has a harsh cough that gets worse in the evening. Now she's woken up gasping for air. Chances are she has croup. This is an infection of the voice box (larynx) and windpipe (trachea). Croup causes the airways to swell, making it hard to breathe. It also causes a cough that can sound something like a seal barking.

Causes of croup

Croup mainly affects children between 6 months and 3 years of age, especially children younger than 2 years, but it can occur up to age 6. Older children have larger airways, so swelling isn't as likely to affect their breathing. Croup often follows a cold and is most common between October and March.

When to go the emergency department (ED)

Call your health care provider right away if you suspect croup. And seek emergency care if you're worried, or if your child:

  • Makes a whistling sound (stridor) that becomes louder with each breath.
  • Has stridor when resting
  • Has a hard time swallowing.
  • Has increased difficulty breathing.
  • Has a blue or dusky color around the mouth or nose.

What to expect in the emergency department

A doctor will ask about your child's medical history and listen to his or her breathing. Your child may be given a medication that relieves swollen airways. In extreme cases, a tube may be used to help your child breathe.

Home care for croup

Croup can sound frightening. But, in many cases, warm, moist air can ease your child's breathing. Follow these steps to help your child's breathing:

  1. Turn on the hot water in your bathroom shower.
  2. Keep the door closed, so the room gets steamy.
  3. Sit with your child in the steam for 15 or 20 minutes.

If your child wakes up at night, You can also bundle your child up and take him or her outside to breathe in the cool night air.