Croup : Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Alternate Names : Viral croup, Laryngotracheobronchitis – acute, Spasmodic croup

Definition

Croup is breathing difficulty accompanied by a “barking” cough. Croup, which is swelling around the vocal cords, is common in infants and children and can have a variety of causes.

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Viral croup is the most common. Other possible causes include bacteria, allergies, and inhaled irritants. Acid reflux from the stomach can trigger croup.

Croup is usually (75 percent of the time) caused by parainfluenza viruses, but RSV, measles, adenovirus, and influenza can all cause croup.

Before the era of immunizations and antibiotics, croup was a dreaded and deadly disease, usually caused by the diphtheria bacteria. Today, most cases of croup are mild. Nevertheless, it can still be dangerous.

Croup tends to appear in children between 3 months and 5 years old, but it can happen at any age. Some children are prone to croup and may get it several times.

In the Northern hemisphere, it is most common between October and March, but can occur at any time of the year.

In severe cases of croup, there may also be a bacterial super-infection of the upper airway. This condition is called bacterial tracheitis and requires hospitalization and intravenous antibiotics. If the epiglottis becomes infected, the entire windpipe can swell shut, a potentially fatal condition called epiglottitis.

Pictures & Images

Lungs

The major features of the lungs include the bronchi, the bronchioles and the alveoli. The alveoli are the microscopic blood vessel-lined sacks in which oxygen and carbon dioxide gas are exchanged.

Throat anatomy

Throat anatomy

Structures of the throat include the esophagus, trachea, epiglottis and tonsils.

Voice box

Voice box

The larynx, or voice box, is located in the neck and performs several important functions in the body. The larynx is involved in swallowing, breathing, and voice production. Sound is produced when the air which passes through the vocal cords causes them to vibrate and create sound waves in the pharynx, nose and mouth. The pitch of sound is determined by the amount of tension on the vocal folds.


Review Date : 7/15/2008
Reviewed By : Linda Vorvick, MD, Seattle Site Coordinator, Lecturer, Pathophysiology, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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