Why does my baby’s cough sound like a bark?

Posted on 31 December 2019

Croup is a childhood condition that affects the windpipe (trachea), the airways to the lungs (the bronchi) and the voice box (larynx).

Croup is a common viral respiratory tract infection that affects babies from six to 36 months old. It affects the larynx and trachea and may extend to the bronchi. As Dr Poly Orji, a paediatrician at Mediclinic Bloemfontein, says, recovery is excellent and almost always complete.

Croup is usually caused by a viral infection, most often a parainfluenza virus. Dr Orji explains that  croup is spread through direct inhalation from a cough or sneeze, or by contamination of the hand and subsequent touching of the eyes, nose or mouth.

“Nonspecific respiratory symptoms include a runny nose, sore throat, cough and fever,” Dr Orji adds.  “Within two days, a characteristic hoarse, barking cough develops. Your baby might also show signs of respiratory distress (such as fast breathing) and lethargy or agitation due to hypoxia. Dehydration due to poor feeding may also be present.”

The symptoms of croup can last for up to two weeks, but generally resolve within seven days.

If it is a mild case of croup, you can treat your baby at home. “Cool mist from a humidifier and/or sitting with your child in a bathroom (not in the shower) filled with steam water generated from the shower (steam inhalation) can help,” says Dr Orji.

“Keep your child in a calm environment and treat any fever with Panadol or Ponstel. Elevate your child’s head and stay close to them at night so you can monitor for danger signs. These can include increased respiratory rate and effort, increased heart rate and a refusal to eat.” Any child displaying any of these dangerous symptoms should be seen by a medical doctor.

Babies with severe cases of croup are treated in hospital. “Treatment includes nebulisation with epinephrine, oral corticosteroid and respiratory support if necessary,” says Dr Orji. “Antibiotics are given if a secondary bacterial infection is suspected.”



In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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