Is That Contagious? Croup

Prior to having kids, I was a bit of a winter fan. It was all about comfort eating (ok I still do that), snuggling in bed on a Saturday morning, wearing lovely cream knitted cardies and keeping them clean (slight fib there) and passing out with the heater on after a bottle of red. Now it’s all snot, coughing, trying not to infect people and tossing up whether to sit in Emergency and risk getting even more sick or waiting it out at home.

Last month that cruel bastard, croup, arrived in our household – with a hacking, barking, bloody horrible bang. Deightfully, it was the same week my partner left for a work-trip to Perth. It’s scary and relentless and I made three trips to the Emergency Room in the space of a week. Here’s some stuff worth knowing:

Contagious factor:

High. The virus that causes croup is spread by coughing, sneezing, mucus droplets and all that lovely stuff.

What is it:

A bastard. Technically speaking though, croup is a common viral infection that usually attacks little kids in winter. The virus causes the throat and windpipe to become inflamed, narrowing the airways and making it difficult to breathe.

It begins like a common cold, with symptoms like a snotty nose, sore throat, fever and irritability. Once the croup sets in you’ll notice your bub might have a hoarse voice, noisy breathing and a violent, barking cough. It is usually worse at night, which is awful because it’s exactly the time of night you don’t want to be taking them out into the cold to sit in Emergency. Why can’t these things ever be easy?!


There’s no cure or way to prevent croup. If your doctor diagnoses a mild case, then you’ll usually be able to treat it at home. A mild case means they don’t have noisy breathing or difficulty breathing. Panadol, lots of cuddles on the couch and frequent sips of water can all help.

There’s lots of differing information out there about the use of vaporisers and humidifiers. Some say they have not proven effective, others encourage the (safe) use of them in the home. It’s up to you. For the record, we bought a cool-mist vaporiser, and keep it on of a night with some drops of lavender oil in it (to promote a good night’s sleep…ha! Whatever)

If the croup gets worse, you’ll notice your child has difficulty breathing. It’s scary, but don’t panic. Take them to your doctor, or straight to Emergency (where there will no doubt be three other families in exactly the same position). If their lips turn blue, call an ambulance immediately (because you have ambulance cover, don’t you, you sensible grownup parent person?). One night I actually rang the NURSE-ON-CALL (1300 606 024) and asked her to listen to my baby’s breathing. She suggested I go to Emergency, which I assumed would happen, but it was good peace of mind.

What to look for:

My doctor explained that croup can cause the skin between the ribs and the windpipe area to “suck in” as my child laboured to breathe.  I didn’t really understand what that would look like, and wasn’t sure I’d be able to notice it. However, when the croup was at its worst I immediately saw what she meant. It was very clear that my baby was struggling to breathe, which is why we went straight to the ER.

The word ‘stridor’ is terrifying, and makes me think of those horrible orcs from Lord of the Rings. It means “noisy breathing” and it’s the sound you hear as your baby strugggles to take a breath. It’s a bit like a whistling sound, and you won’t forget it easily.


Croup can be treated with liquid steroids, which work almost immediately (ie. over the course of about four hours). They reduce the swelling and if they were a person I would kiss them. In really bad cases, the hospital might administer adrenalin via a nebuliser. The mist goes straight into their lungs and helps relieve the swelling until the steroids kick in.

Because croup is a viral infection, antibiotics won’t work. Which is kind of a good thing, because I don’t know about you but I am sick of being asked to give my baby antibiotics. I hate what they are doing to her insides, and I wish winter would just bloody well be over.


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