Medicines and treatments for croup

Treatment for croup depends on how severe the symptoms of the infection are and may include:

Croup is usually caused by a virus so antibiotics won’t help the infection or the symptoms.

Your doctor will assess how severe your child’s croup when deciding how to treat it.

Treatments for mild croup

Most children will have mild croup and their symptoms will usually go away within 48 hours with no treatment, as their immune system will fight the infection.

Croup is usually caused by a virus, so antibiotics won’t help the infection or the symptoms.

Treatment will focus on managing the symptoms of croup such as fever. If your child has a fever (a temperature of 38.5°C or higher) and is also experiencing pain or discomfort, paracetamol or ibuprofen can help. Your doctor can provide advice.

Your doctor may also prescribe a corticosteroid medicine to ease the symptoms of croup. Corticosteroids reduce inflammation (swelling) in the airways and throat, making it easier to breathe. Corticosteroids may be given as either a tablet or a liquid. Dexamethasone is often the first choice, but prednisolone may be given instead. One or two doses of a corticosteroid — given 24 hours apart — is usually recommended.

Read more about how to manage the symptoms of croup and our medicines information on paracetamol and ibuprofen.

Treatments for moderate or severe croup

If your child has moderate or severe symptoms of croup, your doctor will probably prescribe a corticosteroid medicine as well as providing advice on other ways to manage the symptoms of croup. Corticosteroids reduce inflammation (swelling) in the airways and throat, and ease the symptoms of croup.

Dexamethasone and prednisolone are corticosteroids used to treat mild, moderate or severe croup. They may be given as either a tablet or a liquid. Dexamethasone is often the first choice, but prednisolone may be given instead. One or two doses of a corticosteroid — given 24 hours apart — is usually recommended.

Read more about how to manage the symptoms of croup and our medicines information on paracetamol and ibuprofen.

Tell your doctor about all the medicines your child is taking

It is important that you tell your health professional about all the medicines you or anyone in your care is taking — including prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines (herbal, ’natural’, vitamins and mineral supplements). This is because all medicines, including herbal and natural medicines, can cause side effects and may interact with other medicines. The benefits and risks of herbal and natural medicines may not have been tested.

Hospital treatment for severe croup

If your child has symptoms of severe croup, they may have to go to hospital. They may be given adrenaline to breathe in through a nebuliser. A nebuliser is a machine that can change liquid medicines into a vapour or fine mist that can be breathed in. This can improve your child’s symptoms within 10–30 minutes and last for up to 2 hours. If your child is very distressed and they are finding it very difficult to breathe, they will be given oxygen through an oxygen mask.

Your child will also be given a corticosteroid medicine to help reduce any swelling (inflammation) in their airways. Corticosteroids reduce inflammation (swelling) in the airways and throat, making it easier to breathe. They may be given as either a tablet or a liquid. Dexamethasone is often the first choice, but prednisolone may be given instead.

References
  • Respiratory Expert Group. Therapeutic guidelines: Croup. In: eTG complete [online]. Melbourne: Therapeutic Guidelines Limited, 2012 (accessed 12 April 2012).
  • Russell KF, Liang Y, O'Gorman K, et al. Glucocorticoids for croup. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, Issue 1. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001955.pub3.
  • NHS Choices – croup: www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Croup/Pages/Treatment.aspx (accessed 18 April 2012).