“My kids always get a croup-y cough this time of year…”
“Every cold has turned into croup lately…”
“I always recognize that ‘croup cough’ and know things are getting worse…”
Since a fearful midnight scene a year ago as we watched a fireman carry the limp figure of our preschool-aged neighbor at the time across a well-lit picture window, I’ve been curious about how a cold becomes croup. We had no idea what was wrong when we saw the flashing lights and the commotion, but we prayed in earnest for whatever the child and parents needed, trusting in God’s Providence to provide.
We found out later that the child had been hospitalized – again – for croup that nearly stopped his breathing that night.
My children, thankfully, haven’t experienced croup symptoms before, but it seems to be a really common occurrence among children and babies these days. I posed a question about it on Facebook during Natural Health Month (which is spilling over into April here, as do most of my daily and weekly to-do lists of any kind…tell me I’m not alone in that!) and I got enough advice that I wanted to share it in the form of a post. (top photo source)
What is Croup, Anyway?
According to Mayo Clinic,
“Croup is an infection of the upper airway, generally in children, which obstructs breathing and causes a characteristic barking cough.”
What is, I think, confusing to some people is that croup isn’t a “germ” in itself. You can’t “catch croup” exactly, because croup isn’t contagious – similar to when I wrote about symptoms of pneumonia, croup is going to start as some sort of virus, including the common cold (sometimes but not often a bacterial infection), and if the vocal chords, windpipe, and bronchial tubes become infected and inflamed (swollen), they cause a cough that sounds like a seal barking.
Croup is often also marked by a high-pitched whistling sound on the breath, called “stridor.” It is more common in children and babies than adults, and most outgrow the tendency toward croup as they reach middle elementary.
Natural Croup Treatments for Children and Babies
Even that Mayo Clinic snippet says that most croup symptoms are mild enough to be treated at home.
By far the most common natural remedy for croup is to go outside and breathe very cold air (in warm climates, open the freezer and stand in front). Parents with experience say to just bundle them up and sit outside for as long as you can stand it, or drive with the windows open.
Second runner up for home remedies is the steam treatment, much like the home remedy for pneumonia I explained a few weeks back. Many said that any steam needs to be followed by the shock of the cold air or it won’t be as effective (or at all).
For any respiratory infection, we like to use essential oils such as the ones in the chest rub offered at Mighty Nest, either on the chest, in a vaporizer/diffused, with the steam treatment, or all three.
Here is an amazing round up of reader ideas for treating croup in children and babies naturally from the KS community (remember to take any advice as you would from a friend or acquaintance, not as from an expert! There is certainly a time and place for steroid treatments, as many readers echoed in the thread, and you need to be ready before your baby is starting to turn blue because they can’t breathe…)
- Warm compress on chest (with oils if available, eucalyptus and peppermint are important for opening airways, mixed with a carrier oil) (Note from a reader: peppermint EO should not be used in children under
twosix, and eucalyptus not good under 10…”Fir Needle (or any spruce or pine EO aside from Ponderosa or Huon Pine) and Spearmint are much safer alternatives.”)
- Humidifier/vaporizer in room (cool air style recommended, sometimes two in one room)
- Popsicles to cool the throat directly (here are some homemade popsicles with zero sugar)
- Children’s Ibuprofen to reduce swelling at night, not natural but probably preferable to steroid treatment or a hospital stay
- Cinnamon, thyme, and clove essentials oils in a steam tent (a towel over a parent and the child while running hot water in the sink with the oils) Check with a professional about whether these oils would be safe for your age child or not.
- Elderberry syrup (one version here) is said to be really good for both general immunity boosting and upper respiratory support.
- Peggy from Local Nourishment shared these gems:
“Mustard plaster (1 tsp dry mustard powder, ¼ cup any flour, enough melted coconut oil to make a paste) spread on a bandana and tied around the throat gently. (Tie the mustard plaster within the fabric so the paste doesn’t touch the skin!) Remove if the skin becomes bright red, some redness and warmth is normal.
Homeopathic Aconitum 30 every hour (which is usually enough to do it) followed by Spongia toasta if needed.
Bone broth only for meals unless the child is very hungry as overeating can bring on an attack.”
- Some very specific homeopathy instructions here.
- Croup symptoms tend to get worse at night and are nearly gone during the day, but they may come back at night – keep up your guard and your natural treatments…
- “Lobelia extract is supposedly the number one herb for asthma and breathing issues and mullein is also good as a tea or to breathe the steam.”
- TriLight Health’s Lungs Plus includes many helpful herbs and has been a helpful tool for at least one reader
- Keep the child calm; crying increases the coughing. If you have a regular natural remedy for calm, including homeopathics or even just sitting on the couch watching TV to distract the child, try it!
- One method is to use an extra pillow to slightly prop the child up and instruct them to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth slowly. “Apparently, this helps ease the spasms that keep the cough going…”
- Water, chamomile tea, honey and lemon juice would all be helpful, too. (Some kids drink a lot more tea if there’s a bendy straw involved, apparently…)
- Elderberry to help dry up the congestion.
- Sleeping with a window cracked a bit (when it’s cold outside).
- Similisan makes a homeopathic cough syrup that is awesome for croup!
- UPDATE: Here’s a great post from Simple Life, Abundant Life on natural remedies for croup that I stumbled across.
- Kali Mur, the homeopathic remedy, worked every time (according to one reader). It didn’t cure the cold, but it stopped the croup.
- Always important reminders from someone who’s been there:
“Just be careful about assuming its simply a virus that has to run its course. That might be the case for some, but not all. Before we realized our dd had severe allergies as well as significant asthma, she tended to come down with croup on a fairly regular basis. We always started with moist air, cold air (outside at night for short amounts of time), but would take her in if there were changes in breathing (more strider), color (pale, grey/blue), etc. At one point her lung function was down to 24%, not something you want to mess around with at home. There’s definitely a time and place for natural remedies, but I sincerely believe that goes for medical care as well.”
Consensus seems to be that when you hear the “stridor” of really high-pitched, labored breathing or see any change in skin color (blue), beat a path to the ER right away. “Kids crash fast,” says one RN and mom of a “crouper” – so be proactive and ready even if they’re acting well.
But Why so Much Croup?
That was my initial question, because croup wasn’t a common problem that I remember from my own childhood. I didn’t really get an answer, but apparently some kids are just prone to croup symptoms. If they’ve had a serious respiratory infection in the past, like RSV as an infant for one example, they may just be more prone to infection settling in when they get a cold.
Asthma or allergies may be other exacerbating or causal symptoms.
Harnessing Your Natural Health
Keep in mind that as with any natural solution to an illness, certain remedies may work wonders for some and not at all for others, especially when you start talking essential oils and homeopathics. That’s one reason you’ll often see a list of possible options, and you may need to try a few to see what fits your child’s physiology.
You may also want to look at how essential oils from Mountain Rose Herbs can help keep your family healthy. The Practical Guide to Children’s Health and Common Sense Health are great resources as well for becoming your family’s first line of defense.
It’s important to know enough about essential oils to be safe with them! I learned a TON at this very helpful post and you should read it, too, especially about eucalyptus, cinnamon and peppermint for children.
I’ve also recently learned not to use homeopathics and EOs at the same time, for example, which is something desperate parents need to know when presented with a huge list of remedies like this post. Just be sure not to use a remedy (or multiple remedies at once) and forget to treat them like medicine just because they’re “natural” and you read about them on some blog somewhere. 😉
Update: My own post on the potential dangers of essential oils. They can be great if used correctly, but you need to know enough to know what you don’t yet know…
Have you conquered the symptoms of croup naturally in your children?
Other Natural Health Posts:
- Fighting Infection without Antibiotics
- Are Hand Sanitizers Safe?
- Get Rid of Warts Naturally
- Natural Remedies for Ear Infections
- Real Food BRATY Diet
- How We Kicked Whooping Cough
- You Probably Need a Parasite Cleanse
- Natural Pneumonia Treatments For Toddlers
- Natural Remedies for Croup
Disclosure: There are affiliate links in this post to Amazon, Mountain Rose Herbs, Practical Guide to Children’s Health and Common Sense Health from which I will earn some commission if you make a purchase. Mighty Nest is a sponsor of KS receiving their monthly complementary mention. Trilight Health is a former KS sponsor, but this mention was organic, coming directly from a reader. I don’t have any experience with Lungs Plus. See my full disclosure statement here.