When your child wakes you in the middle of the night barking like a seal, it can be unsettling. The distinct sound of the croup cough (dry, rattly, and seemingly painful) may cause parents to panic. But what is croup exactly? It is a cough caused by several different viruses that enlarge the tissue around the voice box, causing the unmistakable bark. Other croup symptoms are not dissimilar to those of the common cold and upper respiratory infections, so parents should observe their child carefully.
The most obvious sign that your child has croup is the croup cough. “The cough from croup is a very different sounding cough from other coughs. It has a dry, barky seal-like sound to it,” says Danelle Fisher, MD, chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. “It’s usually worse at night; kids can wake up in the middle of the night with this harsh-sounding cough.”