Small Talk#17: Barking Like a Seal!

Croup in babies and toddlers

What is croup?

Croup is a term used to describe the swelling of the voice box and windpipe. Most commonly caused by a virus, allergies, bacteria or inhaled irritants which can also trigger an attack.

Moist air helps alleviate a croup attack

moist air alleviates breathing

steam up the room!

If you have never heard the sound of a croup cough, consider yourself lucky! I had never even given a thought to croup until one night when I was woken up by the dreadful sound of my 2 year old barking like a seal. Both my husband and I shot out of bed at the sound (and my husband NEVER used to wake up for the normal night time cries!) and were at our son’s bedside in a flash. Poor little chap was already blue around his mouth and could hardly breathe. Instinct took over and although I had never even considered or read up on croup, I just KNEW this is what it had to be! I took the little guy into the bathroom and ran the hot water taps full blast whilst hubby phoned the doctor! Once the doctor heard my son’s “barking” he told us to get to the ER immediately. That was one nerve wracking ride, I can tell you! The doctor was there, waiting for us, and my little boy was whisked off to be treated. Thankfully, after spending that night in the hospital all ended well, and my son never again had another attack. Note, although people will tell you that croup often appears after several days of cold symptoms, my son did not have a cold and was perfectly healthy (or so we thought!) when we put him to bed that night! So I believe from my experience that croup can, and does, occur suddenly for no rhyme or reason except that, unknown to you, your child has come into contact with whatever virus or bacteria or irritant that triggers a croup attack.

Is croup dangerous?

Nowadays, most croup attacks are not too serious, thank goodness, as children are now vaccinated with the Hib vaccine, the vaccines for measles and the diphtheria vaccine all of which protect children against the more vicious forms of croup (my son had not been vaccinated with the Hib vaccine).  Most cases are mild and go away within a week without any problems. However, a severe case of croup can lead to serious breathing difficulties.

When to call the doctor?

If you suspect your child has croup (believe me, you will just KNOW when he has it, as that “bark” is so horrible to hear and so unlike anything you’ve ever heard before!), call your doctor. Keep your child nearby so that the doctor can hear his cough and breathing over the phone and can advise you accordingly. If your child struggles to breathe when at rest, if his lips or skin are going blue and he can’t swallow his saliva, don’t hesitate to take him straight to the nearest emergency room as it could mean he has serious and potentially life-threatening swelling in his throat.

What’s the treatment?

cough syrup should not be given

cough syrup is a no-no

Moist air (hence the steamy bathroom) or cold air seem to reduce the swelling so it’s worth either trying the steamy bathroom or taking your child out into the cold night air for 15-20 minutes. Hold your child upright or sit him up on your lap and keep him calm. You may have to repeat this several times during the night, every time he coughs. If your child has a fever you might want to give him whatever medication you normally use to reduce a fever. Don’t give cough syrup as it may make it more difficult for him to cough up any mucous and it won’t help. If the attack is so severe that it requires hospitalization, your child may be given oxygen, or steroids and be on an inhaled medication.

Can my child get croup again?

Unfortunately the answer is yes. My son only ever had that one very scary attack, but some children seem more prone to getting croup than others until their airways grow bigger. Most attacks occur between 6 months of age and 3 years, but  a niece of mine had an attack when she was 8 years old so there’s no hard and fast rule.

Is it contagious?

If the croup is caused by a virus and not allergies or irritants, then it will be contagious and your child should be kept at home until free of symptoms.

Can I prevent my child from getting croup?

No you cant! Your first line of defense is handwashing and keeping your child away from anyone who has a respiratory infection (even the common cold!) which is really impractical as you may catch a cold but you still have to be “mom” to your child!! Keeping your child’s vaccinations up to date  and washing of hands is the most you can do to try to avoid croup.


With the fluctuating temperature of Spring time, your child could suddenly get croup. I hope this blog will help you cope with this frightening experience so that your child can recover quickly and without too much stress!

Any comments, or just want to chat? Contact me on or just leave a comment in the block below. I’d love to hear from you!

Yours in newborn photography


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