Back to Index

Does this describe your child's symptoms?

Click image for more info
First Aid - Croup with Stridor
First Aid - Croup with Stridor

  • Viral infection of the voicebox (larynx)
  • The croupy cough is tight, low-pitched, and barky (like a barking seal)
  • The voice or cry is hoarse (laryngitis)

Stridor: A Complication of Croup

  • Stridor is a harsh, raspy sound heard with breathing in
  • Loud or continuous stridor means severe croup
  • All stridor needs to be treated with warm mist
  • See FIRST AID for treatment recommendations


  •  Usually a parainfluenza virus

Return to School

  • Your child can return to child care or school after the fever is gone and your child feels well enough to participate in normal activities. For practical purposes, the spread of croup and colds cannot be prevented.

If not, see these topics
  •  It doesn't sound like croup, see COUGH
  • Tight purring sound when breathing out, see WHEEZING

First Aid:

First Aid Advice For Stridor (Harsh sound with breathing in) or Constant Coughing:

  • Breathe warm mist in a foggy bathroom with the hot shower running for 20 minutes.  Other options:  a wet washcloth held near the face or a humidifier containing warm water.
  • Caution: avoid very hot water or steam which could cause burns or high body temperatures.
  • If warm mist fails, breathe cool air by standing near an open refrigerator or taking outside for a few minutes if the weather is cold.
When to Call Your Doctor

Call 911 Now (your child may need an ambulance) If
  • Severe difficulty breathing (struggling for each breath, unable to speak or cry because of difficulty breathing, continuous severe stridor)
  • Child has passed out or stopped breathing
  • Lips are bluish when not coughing
  • Croup started suddenly after bee sting, taking a medicine or allergic food
  • Child is drooling, spitting or having great difficulty swallowing (EXCEPTION: drooling due to teething)
Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If
  • NOTE: For any stridor, difficulty breathing, or severe coughing, see FIRST AID
  • Stridor (harsh noise with breathing in) is present now
  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • Child choked on a small object that could be caught in the throat
  • Difficulty breathing (age under 1 year old) not relieved by cleaning the nose
  • Difficulty breathing (age over 1 year old) present when not coughing
  • Lips have turned bluish during coughing
  • Ribs are pulling in with each breath (retractions)
  • Child can't bend the neck forward
  • Severe chest pain
  • Age less than 6 months with any stridor
  • Weak immune system (sickle cell disease, HIV, chemotherapy, organ transplant, chronic steroids, etc)
  • Fever over 104° F (40° C) and not improved 2 hours after fever medicine
  • Age under 12 weeks with fever above 100.4° F (38.0° C) rectally (Caution: Do NOT give your baby any fever medicine before being seen.)
  • You think your child needs to be seen urgently
Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If
  • You think your child needs to be seen, but not urgently
  • Had croup before that needed Decadron
  • Stridor (harsh noise with breathing in) occurred but not present now
  • Continuous (nonstop) coughing
  • Age under 3 months with a croupy cough
  • Earache is also present
  • Fever present for more than 3 days
  • Fever returns after gone for over 24 hours
Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If
  • You have other questions or concerns
  • Croup is a recurrent problem (has occurred 3 or more times)
  • Barky cough present over 14 days
Parent Care at Home If
  • Mild croup with no complications and you don't think your child needs to be seen

  1. Reassurance:
    • Most children with croup just have a barky cough.
    • Some develop tight breathing (called stridor). 
    • Remember that coughing up mucus is very important for protecting the lungs from pneumonia.
    • We want to encourage a productive cough, not turn it off.
  2. Humidifier: If the air is dry, run a humidifier in the bedroom. (Reason: Dry air makes croup worse.)
  3. Homemade Cough Medicine:
    • Goal: reduce the irritation or tickle in the throat that triggers a dry cough.
    • AGE: 3 months to 1 year: Give warm clear fluids (e.g., water or apple juice) to treat the cough. Amount: 1-3 teaspoons (5-15 ml) four times per day when coughing. Avoid honey until 1 year old.
    • AGE 1 year and older: Use HONEY ½ to 1 teaspoon (2-5 ml) as needed as a homemade cough medicine.  It can thin the secretions and loosen the cough.  (If not available, can use corn syrup.)
    • AGE 6 years and older: Use COUGH DROPS to coat the irritated throat. (If not available, can use hard candy.)
  4. Non-Prescription Cough Medicine (DM):
    • Non-prescription cough medicines are not recommended. (Reason: no proven benefit for children). Never use them under 4 years of age. (Reason: risk of serious side effects and not approved by FDA)
    • Honey has been shown to work better for coughs.
    • If you decide to use a cough medicine from your drugstore and your child is over age 4 years, choose one with dextromethorphan (DM). It's present in most non-prescription cough syrups.
    • Indication: Give only for severe coughs that interfere with sleep, school or work.
    • DM Dosage: See Dosage table. Give every 6 to 8 hours for severe coughs that interfere with sleep, school or work.
  5. Coughing Spasms:  
    • Expose to warm mist (e.g., foggy bathroom).
    • Give warm fluids to drink (e.g., warm water or apple juice) if over 3 months of age.
    • Amount: If 3 months to 1 year of age, give warm fluids in a dosage of 1-3 teaspoons (5-15 ml) four times per day when coughing. If over 1 year of age, use unlimited amounts as needed.
    • Reason: both relax the airway and loosen up the phlegm
  6. Fluids: Encourage your child to drink adequate fluids to prevent dehydration. This will also thin out the nasal secretions and loosen the phlegm in the airway.
  7. Fever Medicine: For fever above 102° F (39° C), give acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) or ibuprofen.
  8. Observation During Sleep: Sleep in the same room with your child for a few nights. (Reason: can suddenly develop stridor at night)
  9. Avoid Tobacco Smoke: Active or passive smoking makes coughs much worse.
  10. Contagiousness: Your child can return to child care or school after the fever is gone and your child feels well enough to participate in normal activities. For practical purposes, the spread of croup and colds cannot be prevented.
  11. Expected Course: Croup usually lasts 5 to 6 days and becomes worse at night.
  12. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Stridor (harsh raspy sound) occurs
    • Croupy cough lasts over 14 days
    • Your child becomes worse

And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.

Last Reviewed: 9/15/2011

Last Revised: 8/1/2011

Content Set: Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker

Copyright 1994-2012 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.