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Posted by Maxine Cleminson - - 7 comments

I can barely see straight I am so tired so I apologize if my writing is less than coherent. However, I am trying to keep myself awake until I can crawl into bed early this evening, so what better than a bit of blogging! The reason for my extreme tiredness is because I managed only a few hours sleep last night thanks to a trip to the Emergency Room with The Chubby Cheeks One who awoke in the night with distressing breathing problems. My immediate (and somewhat ludicrous) concern was that he had somehow inhaled a stone, having got one stuck up his nose at school earlier that day (long story)! This may seem a rather bizarre thing to consider, but he had gone to bed with no signs of apparent illness.  Apart from the standard back-to-school sniffles that we've all had this last week, he's been fine... no fever, no complaints, just a slightly runny nose and lack of appetite. And then, BAM! Out of the blue, my poor baby was literally gasping for every breath, unable to speak and getting more listless by the minute. After a worried conversation with the triage nurse at our pediatrician's office, we ended up in the ER at midnight. True to form, his symptoms alleviated slightly on the way there, but when the doctor diagnosed croup this all started to make sense. A dose of steroids finally eased his breathing and we got home in the early hours.

Croup is a common childhood ailment that causes the windpipe and voice box to constrict resulting a distinctive barking cough, hoarse throat and 'stridor' (a crowing wheeze on the in breath). The YouTube clips below give a good indication of what croup looks and sounds like:

Terrifying for a parent.

It often appears suddenly at night following mild cold symptoms.  It is caused by the same virus that causes most upper respiratory problems, such as the common cold. As such, it just needs to take it's course and in most cases it can be treated at home to ease the symptoms while it lasts (usually only a few days). In more severe cases when home treatments don't ease the symptoms and breathing is very labored, medical assistance may be required (it is always worth contacting your pediatrician for advice).

The home treatments for croup that the doctor recommended me include:

  • Cool, fresh air - wrap the child in warm clothes and go outside for 10 minutes.  If you live in a warm location, as we do in Texas, you could try standing in front of an open refrigerator!!
  • Moist air - try sitting in a steamy bathroom with the shower running hot water.  A plug in humidifier or cool air vaporizer in the bedroom may help too.
  • Give the child lots of fluids, as croup can often cause dehydration.
  • A small dose of acetaminophen (paracetamol in the UK) or ibuprofen may help with fever and sore throat.
  • Avoid over the counter cough & cold medicines as these can constrict the airways further.

However, with a very sleepy and sick boy today, the last thing I wanted to do was drag him out to Target to buy a (no doubt expensive) humidifier.  Back in the UK, we had wall mounted hot water radiators providing our home central heating, and so when any of us were suffering with congestion or colds, it was a simple matter of placing a wet flannel or small dish of water on the radiator.  The moisture would evaporate into the air providing a simple means of humidifying the room.  Here in Texas, nighttime temperatures are rarely dropping below 65'F (18'C) even though we are in October, so most houses here have air con rather than radiators!

However, I've come up with a useful alternative to an expensive humidifier... a slow cooker or crock pot filled with water and set on the 'low' or 'keep warm' setting!   In fact, I am using a miniature version designed to melt chocolate, but you could even use a fondue maker! My chocolatier is perfect because it only gets hot enough to melt chocolate rather than bringing the contents to the boil. The idea is to gently warm the water in a container so that it evaporates into the air, and these kitchen appliances are designed to gently warm the contents up and maintain a low simmer.  Perfect.

If you have curious mobile children in the room where you require the humidifier, you may need to ensure it is up high out of reach.  Or even use it in the room for a few hours prior to the child's bedtime and then remove it once they go to bed. Some crock pots are quite hot to touch and actually bring the liquids to a low boil, so use your judgement to ensure the child's safety.
I used a few drops of Olbas Oil in the water in mine to further ease the little man's congestion, but Vicks Vapor product would work just as well.

I know it's "that time of year" when the kids start dropping like flies, and so I hope that we'll be back to normal in a few days. Stay well and thanks for reading!

7 Responses so far.

  1. Anonymous says:

    No offense but you do NOT want anything hot & electric like this product anywhere near the infant or inside his/her room. Sorry, but NO WAY should this ever be done. Cold air is the very best thing for croup.

    The single most important objective for croup is to shrink the swollen throat. Cold air is the only way to shrink the swollen throat area. Think of a sprained ankle... cold/ice is what works for that. This is the same principle.

    Every pediatrician will recomend and encourage cold air for croup.

  2. Mama Max says:

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, Anonymous, and no offense taken! I certainly don't censor people's opinions on this blog and you make some valid points.

    If you read the article, it was actually my paediatrician who gave the advice to try sitting in a steamy bathroom or purchasing a humidifier to ease my son's breathing. He did also say cold air would help (as you mentioned), but living in Texas as we do, it was actually 85'F & humid outside at midnight, so short of standing in front of an open fridge we can't get the benefit of cold air!!! He therefore said that steam was the best option.

    I also understand your concern about leaving something hot & electric in a child's room, which is why I suggested that the appliance was only used in the child's room for a few hours prior to their bedtime just to increase the humidity in the room. I was actually sleeping in my son's room, again on the advice of my paeditrician, and so was able to monitor him closely. This is another piece of standard advice given by paediatricians.

    The aim of the humidifier is not to heat the air or create warmth which as you imply would be counterproductive in reducing swelling. It simply adds moisture to the air which has been shown to aid breathing.

    Thanks again for your comments.

  3. J. Howell, MD says:

    As a Pediatrician, I would like to provide some input. Croup affects over 15% of the infant population annually in North America (6 months-6 yrs) and can be a scary ailment to deal with. In 90% of all croup cases, the bark is worst than it’s bite. Being croup is a form of a virus, antibiotics have no affect on its symptomatic relief. Throughout the years, it was led to believe that breathing in hot steam from a shower was the very best solution for croup however this is somewhat incorrect. Croup is swelling inside the infants upper larynx and is not associated with the lower respiratory system. Steam will actually increase the tissue swelling where as cool air will constrict the vessels and tissue, providing a much more effective symptomatic relief. I totally understand that cool air is not always available for everyone when it’s needed therefore a parent will want to try anything to make their infant better. I recommend to all my patients to breathe the cool air from an opened-door freezer or have something cold, like a popsicle or ice. You can also google "humidity-croup" and you will find studies that have shown that humidity does not remedy croup. My recommendation is cool air. Thank you and best of luck with your new invention.

  4. Mama Max says:

    Thanks for commenting, Dr Howell! I guess that this modern research hasn't filtered down to the majority of paediatrician's yet as I have been told by several doctors (here in the US and back in the UK) to use steam to relieve croup! Interestingly, my son (and his older brother a few years ago) both had symptomatic relief from croup after sitting in a steamy bathroom as advised. I don't know whether there's another reason for this... maybe just that it rouses them from sleep and makes them more alert and able to breath deeper... who knows!!!? Hey, I'm just a mum following the advice of my doctor!!! But I really appreciate you commenting! And I will definitely try the freezer door trick... I was being facetious when I jokingly said I would stand with the fridge door open, but I guess it's not such a bad idea!

  5. Laurie P. says:

    Hey Moms !!! Luved the article a lot. I am a huge fan of eucalyptus. Here are some references on steam and humidity. My pedi recommends cool air also. Luv to all Moms out there !!!!!!

    Do not use steam for your child's croup.

    Journal of American Medicine-Cool air and no humidity

    Humidity Doesn't Ease Croup

    Alberta Medical Association (Page 12)

  6. Mama Max says:

    Thanks for sharing the links, Laurie P!

  7. Lu Zeng says:

    Hah, as a childless and frugal 20-something with a cold (but luckily, a crock pot!), this blogpost just saved me a trip to Bed Bath and Beyond. Thanks!

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Mama Max

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