Treatment of croup depends on how severe the symptoms are. Most cases are mild and can be managed at home.
However, if your child has severe croup, they will need to be admitted to hospital urgently.
Treatment at home
If your GP thinks your child has mild croup, they will usually recommend managing it at home.
This will often involve using children's paracetamol to ease any pain associated with the condition and may help lower your child's temperature if they have a fever.
You should also ensure your child is well hydrated by encouraging them to drink plenty of fluids.
Comforting your child is also important because their symptoms may get worse if they are agitated or crying. If your child is distressed, sitting them upright on your lap will help to comfort and reassure them.
Your GP will usually prescribe a single dose of an oral corticosteroid medication called dexamethasone or prednisolone to help reduce swelling (inflammation) in your child's throat. Side effects of these medications can include restlessness, vomiting, upset stomach and headache.
Steam treatment is not advised for the treatment of croup. There is no evidence that allowing your child to breathe in humid air, for example steam from a hot bath or shower in a closed room, will help.
You should seek urgent medical advice if you notice your child’s symptoms getting worse.
Painkillers for children
Painkillers, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, are available in liquid form for children. You can get liquid paracetamol and ibuprofen over the counter from pharmacies and some supermarkets.
Children under 16 years of age should not be given aspirin.
Speak to your pharmacist or GP if you are unsure about what type of painkiller is suitable for your child.
Read more about giving children painkillers.
Do not use cough medicines or decongestants as these do not help ease the symptoms of croup. These treatments often have drowsy side effects, which can be dangerous when a child has breathing difficulties.
In severe cases of croup, treatment in hospital may be required.
Breathing problems, such as shortness of breath, are a major symptom of severe croup.
You should dial 999 immediately for an ambulance if your child is struggling to breathe.
If your child has severe croup, they may be given adrenaline through a nebuliser. This will help improve symptoms within 10 to 30 minutes and the effects should last for up to two hours. A nebuliser allows your child to breathe the medication as a mist.
If your child is very distressed and finding it difficult to breathe, they will be given oxygen through an oxygen mask.
As with milder cases of croup, oral dexamethasone or prednisolone will usually be given to help reduce any swelling in your child’s airways.
In rare cases croup may require hospitalisation, where a child may need intubation. During intubation, a tube is inserted either through a nostril or the mouth and passed down into the windpipe. This will help your child breathe more easily.
Intubation is usually performed under general anaesthetic. This means your child will be completely unconscious throughout the procedure so they do not experience pain or distress.