Croup cases on the rise as colder temperatures settle in

31 May 2019 

Children’s Health Queensland is urging parents and carers to learn the signs and symptoms of croup, with emergency presentations increasing as temperatures drop.

Croup involves inflammation and swelling of the larynx (voice box), trachea (windpipe) and bronchi (the large airways in the lungs). This inflammation of the air passages can cause a child to have a barking cough, a hoarse voice, and noisy or laboured breathing.

Children with very severe croup may not be able to breathe enough air in and may ‘go blue’ or become drowsy and need urgent treatment in hospital.

This common condition has been the number one reason for children presenting to the Queensland Children’s Hospital emergency department for the past three months, with 620 cases reported since the beginning of March. This is an increase of 23 per cent (or 116 cases) from the same period last year.

“Croup is usually caused by a virus. The virus causes inflammation of the large air tubes and causes them to swell. The swelling and mucous partly blocks the air tubes making it harder for your child to breathe,” said Associate Professor Jason Acworth, Queensland Children’s Hospital’s Director of Emergency.

“Croup is common in children, typically between the ages of six months and five years and sometimes is caused by changes in the environment like cold dry air. This is called ‘spasmodic’ croup and children with asthma may be more prone to this type.

“Croup is a reaction to a virus, not a virus itself – so it can’t be caught or spread.”

Associate Professor Acworth said most instances of croup could be safely managed at home.

“Keep your child calm and sitting upright. You can use paracetamol if your child is unsettled but avoid steam treatment or vaporisers as this does not help.”

“In severe croup, children may need to be given oxygen and may even need to be given Adrenaline via a mask to help open up the airways while waiting for other medicines to take effect.”

Call an ambulance immediately if a child:

  • has blue lips
  • is struggling to breathe
  • is breathing noisily
  • looks very unwell and becomes drowsy and pale.

Signs and symptoms of croup:

  • Often starts with one to two days of common cold symptoms (mild fevers and a runny nose).
  • As the virus spreads lower it can cause:
    • a hoarse voice barking cough (often sounds like a ‘seal bark’)
    • a noisy sound when your child breathes in
    • fast and laboured breathing.
  • Symptoms usually get worse at night and may disappear during the day.
  • Your child may complain of a sore throat or not wish to eat or drink.

For more information about croup, see:


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