Signs and Symptoms of Croup

The most typical symptom of croup is a cough that sounds like a barking seal. The cough generally develops after several days of a mild cold. Fever, hoarseness or sore throat, and noisy breathing also may accompany the barking cough. Cough associated with croup often develops in the middle of the night and can be quite alarming for parents.

Complications of Croup

Croup sometimes can develop into more severe breathing difficulties or other life-threatening complications. Although complications are rare, it is important to monitor your child's breathing if he or she has croup. If your child is having difficulty breathing or you have other serious concerns, contact your child's physician—even in the middle of the night—or call 911.

Signs that require immediate medical attention include the following:

  • Bluish coloring of the lips or skin
  • Difficulty swallowing or excessive drooling
  • High-pitched whistle during inhalation (called stridor)
  • Very fast breathing
  • Pulling in of the skin between the ribs (called retractions)
  • Short or shallow breathing

Other cases that require immediate medical attention include croup symptoms caused by an insect bite, sting, or inhaled object (e.g., small toy, food particles). Other croup complications include the following:

  • Atelectasis (collapse of part of the lung caused by blocked air passages)
  • Epiglottitis (medical emergency; swelling of the flap of tissue that prevents food and drink from entering the windpipe)
  • Bacterial tracheitis (bacterial infection that causes inflammation and swelling of the windpipe)
  • Dehydration (fluid loss due to cold or flu symptoms, such as fever)
  • Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

    Published: 27 Aug 2008

    Last Modified: 10 Sep 2015