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Children and Colds and Croup

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When to Be Concerned

Asthma can be a problem for children with colds. Other complications, such as viral pneumonia and Reye's syndrome, can occur, although these are not as common.

Children with asthma have a difficult time with a cold. That's because with a cold the airways are inflamed and can easily become constricted. If your child has asthma, be sure to talk to your child's doctor when cold symptoms begin. That way you can make sure asthma treatment is effective.

Viral pneumonia is an infection and inflammation of the lungs and is one of the most serious complications of the flu and, occasionally, the common cold. Symptoms of viral pneumonia include a low-grade fever (less than 102 degrees Fahrenheit), coughing up mucus, achiness, and tiredness.

Reye's syndrome is a very rare but serious disease that can occur in children. While the causes are unknown, it seems to occur when aspirin is administered to treat viral illnesses. Do not give aspirin to your child unless told to do so by your doctor.

What Is Croup?

"Croup" is the term used to describe a barky cough, constriction of the upper airway, and a harsh vibrating sound when breathing. It results from an infection of the larynx, or voice box, and typically affects children under age 5, mainly during fall and winter. Symptoms are most severe in children under age 3. Croup may last from five to six days, depending on the severity of the infection, and may have other complications such as ear infection or pneumonia.

Croup is most commonly caused by viruses such as influenza, parainfluenza, respiratory syncytial virus [RSV], measles, and adenovirus. Rarely croup can be caused by bacteria. This infection causes the upper airways to swell, making it difficult to breathe.

What Are the Symptoms of Croup?

The symptoms of croup include the following:

  • A harsh or seal-like "barking" cough that often becomes worse at night
  • Stridor, a harsh, raspy vibrating sound when breathing in
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Restlessness or nervousness at night or when it becomes harder to breathe

Although there are recognizable signs of croup, any illness that complicates your child's breathing should be evaluated by your child's doctor.

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