Seal-Like Cough in Children

A loud, repetitive cough can be very scary for both children and their parents. According to KidsHealth, children with the croup have a loud cough, which often sounds like the barking of a seal 1. Although this cough may be alarming to you, it is not life-threatening.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.


An inflammation of the upper airways, including the larynx and trachea, is a condition called croup. The croup leads to a barking cough or hoarseness. Croup is commonly caused by the parainfluenza virus, but may also be caused by adenovirus or respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV. Croup is most common in children six months to three years old.


Croup usually begins with a stuffy or runny nose and fever. When the upper airway becomes inflamed and swollen, your child may become hoarse and have a harsh, barking cough. As the airways become even more swollen, your child may have difficulty breathing, resulting in a high-pitched or squeaking noise when your child inhales. Your child may also breathe faster than normal. Croup symptoms are usually worse at night or during crying. Croup usually lasts three to seven days.


Children normally recover from croup with no complications. Rarely, a child may develop a bacterial infection or pneumonia. Dehydration may also occur due to inadequate fluid intake.


Treatment for croup includes breathing moist air and ibuprofen or acetaminophen to make the child more comfortable. A cool-mist humidifier or a steam-filled bathroom may help stop the coughing. Steroids, prescribed by the doctor, may help reduce the airway swelling. Rest and plenty of fluids is usually recommended, according to KidsHealth.


Prevention of croup and any other virus-causing illness includes frequent hand washing. You should also avoid contact with people who have respiratory infections to reduce the chance of spreading the virus that may cause croup 1.


Contact your doctor if your child has difficulty breathing, rapid or labored breathing, has a high-pitched or squeaking noise when inhaling, is pail or bluish around the mouth, has difficulty swallowing, is fatigued or shows signs of dehydration.