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Symptoms of a Chronic, Croupy Cough in a Child

By Allison Stevens ; Updated August 14, 2017

Croup is a condition that usually starts as a virus then leads to inflammation of your child's upper airways. This swelling of the voice box and windpipe causes a barking cough and hoarseness that may alarm you. Knowing the common symptoms of croup and how to treat it will help you be prepared if your child contracts this illness.

About Croup

Croup, which is contagious, is primarily caused by the parainfluenza virus. Other causes include the adeno virus, respiratory syctial virus, measles, mumps or other viruses. Most common in children ages 6 months through 3 years during late fall to early winter, croup generally does not affect children once they reach school-age. As the viral infection causes upper airway constriction, your child may experience obstructed breathing. Symptoms are usually the most severe at night and last for five to six days, peaking in severity on the second or third evening. Chronic coughs, however, last for eight weeks or longer and require medical attention.


The most notable symptom of croup is the barking, seal-like cough Prior to the barking cough, your child may show signs of a common cold, such as a stuffy nose or fever. The fever is usually below 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Due to swelling of the voice box, your child may also have a hoarse voice. According to, the symptom that should cause the greatest concern is stridor, which is the gasping, whistling sound your child makes when inhaling. Indrawing is another symptom that should cause concern. You will see a little dent just below your child's breastbone cave in as she struggles for breath.


Most cases of croup are mild and are not chronic. Calm your child because being scared and upset can worsen symptoms. Have your child sit in your lap as you sing or read to her. Humidity can help to open constricted airways. Run a hot shower while you sit in the bathroom together or use a humidifier in her room. Sometimes misty, cool nighttime air also can calm symptoms. Bundle her before heading outside. In addition to plenty of fluids, provide a fever-reducer like children's acetaminophen or ibuprofen in accordance with manufacturer's or your pediatrician's instructions.

When to Act

Observe your child's behavior. If he's happy and alert, these are good signs. If he is not interested in play and easily engaged or has not improved after trying home treatments, consult your pediatrician. If your child grows pale, is drooling excessively or is unable to cry from lack of breath, take him to the nearest emergency room. Breathing becoming more laborious also warrants immediate attention.

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