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Look out for ‘barking coughs’ in kids as croup on the rise

  • Welsh health officials have reported an increase in cases this year
  • Public Health England said numbers could also rise in England
  • Croup usually clears up within 48 hours but can cause serious complications
  • This includes breathing problems and pneumonia needing hospitalisation
  • MailOnline shares symptoms to look out for and ways to treat the condition

Parents are being warned to look out for signs of a ‘barking cough’ in their children as cases of croup rise. 

While the respiratory condition is rarely deadly, it can cause serious breathing problems and severe complications including pneumonia.

Typically causing a distinctive hacking cough and a hoarse voice, croup is as contagious as the common cold and can spread fast, the NHS says. 

Welsh health officials have reported an increase in cases this year.

While the numbers have not reached epidemic levels yet, the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board said it is vital parents know how to spot if their child is suffering. 

Parents are being urged to look out for the symptoms of croup – which usually come on after a few days and are often worse at night – after a rise in cases (stock photo)


Seek immediate medical attention if your child has any of the following symptoms:

  • Severe breathing difficulties
  • An increased breathing rate (they’re too breathless to feed or talk) or ‘silent chest’ (you’re unable to hear sounds of breathing)
  • A worsening cough or rasping sound (stridor)
  • Distress and agitation
  • Dark, blue-tinged or pale skin
  • The skin around their ribs and chest appears to be pulled in and tight, making the bones of their chest and ribs more visible
  • Abnormal drowsiness and sleepiness
  • A rapid heartbeat or a falling heart rate
  • A very high temprature
  • An inability to drink fluids

Source: NHS Choices 

Dr Richard Pebody, acting head of respiratory at Public Health England said cases could also rise in England.

‘As expected at this time of the year, we are currently seeing viruses which can cause croup circulating in the community but at relatively low levels,’ he told The Sun Online.

‘So it may be possible that we could see localised increases in England.

‘It’s not unusual for this to happen now and we will continue to monitor their circulation.’

Potential complications

Croup usually affects young children aged between six months and three years, with most cases occurring in one-year-olds. It tends to affect more boys than girls.

However, croup can sometimes develop in babies as young as three months, and older children up to 15 years of age. Adults can also get croup but this is rare.

The condition can be rife in the colder months as autumn and early winter hit.

Croup affects the windpipe and lungs, and can cause a distinctive hacking cough and a rasping sound when inhaling.

Most cases of croup clear up within 48 hours and can be treated at home by making sure a child is well-rested and sufficiently hydrated. 

However, in some cases symptoms can last for up to two weeks. Complications can lead to a child developing an ear infection or pneumonia.

The NHS warns you should go to A&E or call 999 if your child is struggling to breathe – you may see their tummy sucking inwards or their breathing sounds different – or if their skin or lips start to look blue or grey and they’re unusually quiet and still. 


Most cases of are mild and can be treated at home. 

Sitting your child upright and comforting them if they are distressed is important, because crying may make symptoms worse.

Your child should also drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.

A single dose of an oral corticosteroid medication called dexamethasone or prednisolone may be prescribed to help reduce the swelling in the throat.

Breathing problems may need hospital treatment, such as adrenaline and oxygen through a mask.

Do not put your child in a steamy room or get them to inhale steam and it is not advisable to give them cough or cold medicines.

Source: NHS Choices 


Typical symptoms of croup include:

A barking cough that sounds like a seal

  • A hoarse voice
  • Difficulty breathing
  • A rasping sound when breathing in

A harsh grating sound is often most noticeable when the child cries or coughs. But in more severe cases of croup it can also occur when the child is resting or sleeping.

Symptoms tend to be worse at night.

Some children have cold-like symptoms for a few days before developing croup symptoms. 

These cold-like symptoms can include a sore throat, runny nose, cough and high temperature.

Source: NHS Choices