It's that time of year again—the time when we all start to feel like we're always sick. Or we feel like our kids are always sick. Or someone is always sick because it passes through the entire house and ultimately, someone else gets sick again and then passes that around.
Upper respiratory symptoms are a broad category, and they can be caused by anything from allergies to a virus or a bacteria. In little ones, commonly babies, preschool, or elementary school age, respiratory illness can escalate quickly and cause severe distress. Respiratory illness is a serious concern in young children and often times, early intervention is what decreases the progression of the symptom to a more serious problem.
Read on to understand the differences in two common respiratory illness in children to determine: Is it croup or is it the whoop?
By Kara Dobelis Pohren, ARNP, FNP-BC
CEO & CoFounder of IFM
Is it croup or is it the whoop?
Croup is a respiratory infection in children that causes a barking cough. It's also known as "laryngotracheobronchitis" (LT). You will often know this sound as you will hear your child cough and it sounds like a seal barking.
Whooping cough is a cough that makes your child throw up or choke (called the "whoop" sound) when he or she tries to breathe in; this can last for weeks or months at a time! Your child may also have a runny nose or congestion.
What is croup?
Croup causes swelling and narrowing of the windpipe. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, croup occurs when a child's airway narrows and inflames due to a virus or other condition. The inflammation causes the voice box to swell and makes it hard for your child to breathe. This can happen in one area or on both sides of the larynx (or voice box).
What causes croup?
The most common cause of croup is the parainfluenza virus, which affects about half of all children before they reach school age. Other viruses that can cause croup include influenza (flu), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), adenovirus, rhinovirus, and coronavirus. Not everyone who has a viral infection will develop croup; only about 5% do so during any given year.
The 'croup' part is a symptom of the virus and respiratory symptoms. It affects children under the age of four most commonly, but it can affect anyone who gets it—even adults! It's most contagious when you have symptoms like coughing or fever, but before then you can still spread the virus around without knowing it.
What is whooping cough?
Whooping cough causes severe coughing fits, which cause the child to gasp for air and make a 'whooping' sound as they inhale (hence its name). A child with whooping cough may have a fever and other symptoms such as runny nose and watery eyes, but these symptoms do not occur in all cases of whooping cough. These symptoms usually appear after several weeks into the illness; however some children can develop them earlier on in their illness. Whooping cough is a bacterial infection. Whooping cough can be serious for young babies and people with weak immune systems.
What causes whooping cough?
Whooping cough is an infection caused by Bordetella pertussis bacteria, and it can last anywhere from 4 weeks to 6 months after initial symptoms begin. Though it seems like it would be worse at night—because coughing is harder with less oxygen available—whooping cough actually tends to get worse in the day because you're trying to breathe through a stuffy nose while you sleep.
When should my child see their doctor for their cough?
The AAP says you should see your doctor if your child has difficulty breathing, noisy breathing, or if he or she is drooling or vomiting after crying for long periods of time (lasting more than 48 hours). Babies may also have difficulty breathing when they cry because they can't swallow air fast enough, which means there isn't enough oxygen getting into their lungs—and this can lead to cyanosis (when their lips turn blue).
Can croup turn into RSV?
Sort of...it depends on what virus is causing the croup. You may wonder if your child has both croup and RSV because they have similar symptoms. Croup can cause wheezing and coughing fits, but RSV causes respiratory distress.
How long does it last?
The two diseases can be distinguished based on how long they last: Croup usually lasts for about two weeks, but can last up to three weeks if it's untreated.
Whooping cough usually lasts for no more than three months total (although it can be as short as one month). It also usually causes stronger symptoms than croup, making it more difficult to recover from.
How do I treat croup at home?
The best way to aid a croup cough is by using a humidifier in your child's room at night. The humidifier will add moisture to the air and help loosen mucus, making it easier for your child to cough up phlegm. If you don't have a humidifier, try putting cold water in a bowl and placing it on top of the heating vent so that the steam from the hot water helps loosen up the mucus in your child's throat.
You can also bundle that little one up and take them outside in the cool air. The cool air stops the spasm.
How do I treat whooping cough at home?
This will depend on the severity of the illness and what you and your child's doctor determine.
Don't hesitate to contact your child's doctor!