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Humidity May Not Help Kids With Croup

Most Children Get Better Without Treatment

Cool Night Air May Help Croup

Scolnik says the same is true for children with moderate to severe croup symptoms treated at home, even though humidifiers or the steamy bathroom treatment may appear to be useful.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the approach, telling parents through its web site to sit in a steamy bathroom with their child for 15 to 20 minutes.

"Steam almost always works," the AAP public education statement on croup states.

It may appear to work, Scolnik says, but it is more likely that a parent's efforts to comfort and calm the sick child are what really help.

"Parents are doing all the right things when they sit in a steamy bathroom with a child with croup, and the setting is warm and comforting," he says. "But the humidity probably isn't adding much."

Wrapping the child in blankets and taking him outside if the air is cool may help, he says. But this approach has not been well tested either.

Bradley tells WebMD that few of the long-relied on, home treatments for croup and many other childhood illnesses have been subjected to scientific scrutiny.

He is chief of the infectious disease division of the Children's Hospital in San Diego, and he serves of the AAP's Committee on Infectious Diseases.

"My hat is off to these researchers for doing this type of rigorous research on a treatment that has so much tradition behind it," he says. "There are many, many treatments like this that have been used for generations, even though we don't really know if they work. We need more studies like this one."

Recognizing Trouble Signs

While most children with croup will get better within a short time, some do need urgent medical care.

The AAP recommends seeking treatment immediately if the child:

  • Makes a whistling sound that gets louder with each breath
  • Can't speak for lack of breath
  • Seems to be struggling to get a breath
  • Seems very pale or has a bluish mouth or fingernails
  • Drools or has extreme difficulty swallowing saliva
  • Keeps making the abnormal, high-pitched breathing sound, known medically as stridor, while resting

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