What is Spasmodic Croup?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2019
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Spasmodic croup is swelling rapidly occurring in areas like the larynx and characterized by a barking cough, that some compare to the sound of a seal barking. When the upper airway suddenly swells, the symptoms of this illness can occur quite quickly, usually without warning, and often in the middle of the night. This type of croup is only one form of the condition and usually results suddenly when people have illnesses like rhinoviruses (common colds). Medical professionals differentiate croup that is spasmodic from plain croup by causal factors, suddenness of onset, and likelihood of recurrence.

The other form of croup usually results when young children have flu viruses. First symptoms of this croup can occur at any time of day, though all forms of the condition seem to occur most often at night. With spasmodic croup, the person is only mildly ill when they go to bed for the night and then wake up suddenly with a barking cough. No matter which type of croup is present, treatment suggestions are roughly the same.


Lack of humidity is one of the main irritants to the airway and makes symptoms of inflammation worse, so it’s important to provide a humidity source right away. This can be accomplished fairly easily with a humidifier, or some doctors recommend that people sit in the bathroom while running the shower. Another suggested treatment is to sit outside with the coughing person, but only if the weather is not severe. With spasmodic croup, symptoms may resolve and sometimes they come back later, or they can worsen.

Though increased moisture can help with croup symptoms, it is not intended to treat serious cases of croup. Parents particularly should closely watch their children for signs that their condition is deteriorating. If inflammation increases, the affected person may begin to struggle for breath, and this warrants immediate medical attention. Difficulty breathing can be manifested by the presence of stridor or noticeable effort to breathe. Any sound of whistling when a person breathes, paleness of the skin or nail beds, difficulty speaking because it’s hard to take a breath, or very rapid breathing is evidence that croup needs more significant medical intervention.

Given these signs, people should get immediately to an emergency facility and the person with croup might be treated with medicines like inhaled steroids that can stop inflammation. If spasmodic croup is suspected, a prescription for inhaled steroids and a nebulizer to dispense them might be given because the croup may recur. Severe spasmodic croup might also require hospitalization until the condition is resolved. Usually things like antibiotics are not given because the illness isn’t being caused by an infection.

The sudden onset of spasmodic croup can be frightening and it’s often most challenging because it occurs frequently in babies and young children. People tend not to get croup so much as they age, but those who have croup that is spasmodic may still develop it in later childhood and adulthood. Should the condition seem to recur with things like common colds or allergies, doctors may suggest having inhaled steroidal medicines and a nebulizer on hand to quickly treat episodes.


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