I Didn’t Know The Signs Of Croup Until It Was Too Late

A mom holds a crying baby.
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My daughter has croup. Which means it’s officially November.

I can honestly say I have lost count of how many times she has had croup. The doctors say it is just how her body reacts to a cold, but should be something she grows out of. My first two children never had croup so when she showed signs as a baby of having croup, I didn’t know what was wrong. It led to a very scary trip to the emergency room in the middle of the night. Now that I know what to look for, I’m able to recognize the signs and help her before it gets worse.

Our First Time With Croup

My daughter was six months old. I had put her to bed but she couldn’t sleep. She kept crying, tossing and turning. When I checked on her, she was making a wheezing noise like she was having a hard time breathing which scared me to death. I held her all night in the rocking chair to elevate her head which helped her breathe better and get some sleep. After a terrible night, I was surprised that she seemed perfectly fine in the morning. I didn’t know that croup becomes severe in the evening. I also didn’t know that it gets progressively worse each night. Because she was acting normal the next day, I didn’t reach out to our pediatrician. I thought it was a fluke. Then it was time for bed.

I remember telling my older kids to put on pajamas, and reaching to pick my baby girl up out of the rocker. All of asudden, she started gasping for air. She couldn’t breathe. It was like the air had been knocked out of her. She was making a high-pitched noise as she tried to suck in air. This noise is called a “stridor” and is a typical sign of croup. I was frozen, staring at her, waiting for her to breathe, praying she would start breathing. After what felt like forever, but was probably only five seconds, she could breathe and acted perfectly fine. I was alarmed and not sure what just happened.

It was 7:30pm. The pediatrician’s office was closed. I went to my husband and told him that I think I needed to take her to urgent care. My husband told me that she seemed fine and not to worry. My gut told me something was wrong, but I had him hold the baby while I put our boys to bed. I was upstairs for about five minutes when he rushed into the bedroom with her and said “Yes, you need to take her to urgent care now.” It had happened again. He had seen her gasping for air and making that terrible noise. Before I could strap her into her carseat, she started gasping for air again. My husband and I helplessly stared at her, waiting for her to breathe and about to push dial to 911. Then it passed and she was breathing normally.

I rushed her into the car and headed for the nearest urgent care. We were pretty new to Rochester and I had never had to go to urgent care. Sadly the urgent care had just closed for the night. I went to the next one. It was temporarily closed due to covid. Thankfully my daughter had fallen asleep and did not make any more wheezing noises. In hindsight, the cold night air in the car probably helped calm the swelling in her throat. Meanwhile, I was trying not to panic and decided to head to Strong Memorial Hospital.

The Emergency Room

I had never had to take anyone to the emergency room before. Strong Memorial Hospital has a pediatric emergency room. I watched parents carry in children in fuzzy pajamas and slippers, clutching stuffed animals. The nurses took my daughter’s vitals down. She was scared and crying which led to coughing, but it was a loud, “barky” cough. A barky cough is a typical sign of croup. We were seen right away and the doctor quickly identified that croup was the culprit.

I was surprised when they said it was croup. I had thought croup was one of those old-timey diseases that no one gets anymore. Croup is a respiratory infection that causes swelling in the voice box and windpipe. The swelling narrows the airway which results in noisy, difficult breathing. Most cases of croup are mild but some can be dangerous. My daughter was only six months old and had been born almost three weeks early, which meant this was very early to be dealing with croup and that her airway was very small to begin with. The doctor laid my daughter down on the table and watched her stomach as she breathed. She was having retractions where her skin was sucking in around and under her rib cage which is a sign of severe croup.

The doctor explained that the usual treatment of croup is to administer an oral steroid which looks like cough syrup. Because my daughter was so young, they also wanted to give her a second steroid through a mist that she breathed in. I held her in the crook of my arm and held a face mask close to her for fifteen minutes that sprayed the mist so that she would breathe it in. After taking both of those steroids, they wanted to observe her for four hours.

She started to breathe easier and quickly fell asleep. It was 11:00pm by then. I sat with her in a curtained room while she slept in her car seat. The nurses regularly came in to listen to her breathing with a stethoscope and check her temperature. The doctor determined that she was breathing well enough to go home and I took her home around 3am. I am very thankful for the wonderful staff who so quickly evaluated and helped my daughter. The next day, we saw our pediatrician for a follow-up visit. They listened to her chest and confirmed that she was breathing well.

Two Years Later

Croup is most common in children six months to three years old, but can also affect older children and even adults. My daughter is older now and if I hear a stridor or barky cough from her in the morning, I make an appointment to get her to the doctor that day. The doctor can prescribe an oral steroid that I can give her at home for a few days and will prevent her from having a difficult time breathing that night.

On the occasions when croup has come on at night, there are a few things that I can do to help her. One way is to bundle her in a blanket and take her outside in the cold air. The cold air calms the swelling in the throat. Another way to help is to sit in the bathroom with a hot shower running so as to breathe in steam.

As she has gotten older, the cases of croup have become more mild and I have not had to make another emergency room trip. I look forward to the day when she no longer has regular bouts of croup. I wish I had been prepared that first night and knew what croup looked like in a child. I hope my experience and what I’ve learned can help other moms. Remember to always trust your gut.

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Jackie R.
Jackie is the Founder of Rochester Mom Collective. She grew up in Ohio and moved to California to work in film where she had lots of adventures on movie sets. She met her husband in Hollywood and they moved to the San Francisco Bay Area shortly after getting married. In San Francisco, Jackie found work at a medical clinic where she gathered parenting resources for new moms in need. After being on the West Coast for fifteen years, they moved with their three children to the Rochester area to be near family. Jackie has operated her own photography business, Jackie Rutan Photography, for ten years. Jackie enjoys her quality time with friends and family, fellowshipping at her church and drinking iced coffee.