Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

It’s Scary When Your Child Can’t Breathe (Natural Remedies for Croup)

April 1st, 2013 · 19 Comments · Natural Health

Natural Treatments for Croup in Children and Babies :: via Kitchen Stewardship

“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 two)
    • 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)
    • 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…

(photo source)

  • “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, and it worked every time. 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.

Safety Notes

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. ;)

Have you conquered the symptoms of croup naturally in your children?

Other Natural Health Posts:

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Disclosure: There are affiliate links in this post to  AmazonMountain Rose HerbsPractical 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.

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19 Comments so far ↓

  • Sherra Kinder

    Another excellent post full of great resources-thank you!
    I close the door to the bathroom and turn the shower on hot and get it steamy and sit there with my son til the hot water has run out. It sure helped him. He got to where he would ask for it while he was sick with the croup. Seemed to be the only thing that brought him relief.
    Thank you again!!!

  • Cinnamon Vogue

    I am of the opinion that Braggs Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) is a good option for croup too. At least for children 2 years and up. I have not been sick in years. No colds, allergies, coughs, fevers or any respiratory illnesses. And believe me I was a severe asthmatic as a child and had coughs that just would not go away for months. But ACV got rid of all these issues. It’s that good.

    The trick is to mix 2 teaspoons in a glass of warm water and take it within 15 minutes of getting a sniffy nose, water eyes, breathing difficulties. Never exceed this dosage and repeat every 8 hours for -2 days at most. For children you need to watch out for the symptoms (especially in winter, fall and spring) because children will not tell you. Think of Apple Cider Vinegar as preventer as opposed to a cure, although I feel it is strong enough to overcome croup over time.

    Of course a drop of Cinnamon Oil over the hot bowl of steaming water and inhaling it is also an excellent idea. This is because Cinnamon Oil is powerful anti-bacterial. But make sure you keep the kids eyes closed because you don’t want Cinnamon Oil in their eyes. But you know they won’t keep their eyes closed, so get a pair of swimming goggles on their eyes. Alternatively you can boil about 5 sticks of Cinnamon and let them inhale it. Not as effective as Cinnamon Oil but probably easier to use with children.

  • Michelle

    Two years ago our then-three-year-old had a case of croup that resulted in respiratory distress and an emergency hospital visit and admission. It was terrifying to see his lips turn blue in an effort to breathe. Because he never gets sick, I assumed it was a virus that would clear up. His stridor worsened, and he became lethargic, but I didn’t recognize the signs. Fortunately he was okay with steroids and monitoring.

    He hasn’t had any episodes since. The steam-and-cold treatment helped us, and now we have steroids on-hand just in case.

    The doctor assured us that even though he may be a “fast progressor” when it comes to croup, we should still try homeopathic remedies first. I’ll be adding these wonderful resources to my arsenal. Thanks!

  • Lisa

    My son was a premie, and as such he has been very prone to breathing issues. For his 1st 2 years every cold he got (and he got lots of colds) turned into croup. One thing I leaned as I slowly learned more about what was really happened and became adept at dealing with it.. the steriods they give in the ER are just a quick fix. NOT to say they are not needed, if you have ended up in the ER with Stridor and blue lips, its already to late too avoid that. What I realized though it the steriods and antibiotics weakened his already touchy immune system, and we literally were in a cyle of could/croup/steroids/new cold/croup repeat. Home treatments at the first sign of that barky cough are the best bet. You cant always fight it off but the longer it goes on the harder it is and the more tired the child gets. Also with Stridor, its not just a sound. My son never did make the sound, but if you took off the shirt and watched him breath you saw it. The skin in between the ribs and in the hollow of the throat will suck in strongly when the child has Stridor.

  • Cathy

    I’ve had great luck with Boiron’s Chestal homeopathic cough syrup for croupy coughs. It has Drosera, the first go-to homeopathic remedy for croup, and two other remedies that are indicated for barky coughs. Granted, I’ve only used it twice. The first time my son had a barky sounding cough during the day and I got three doses in before bedtime and he slept just fine (maybe it wasn’t really croup, but I didn’t want to wait to find out). The second time my daughter woke up in the middle of the night with a definite case of croup. I gave her a dose of the Chestal and ran her outside and held her out on our porch for a while. I brought her in and it started up again, so I took her back out. About 30 minutes after the first dose of Chestal I gave her another dose and then we were able to go in and go to sleep.

    I loaned my neighbors, who are both trained as doctors though the mom never practiced, a bottle when their son had it. It was the night after, so they didn’t get to try it while he was really bad. Their kids get croup quite often so I left it with her so that maybe she can test it right in the moment. If it works for them, then we will have a real testimony because, being MDs, they don’t have a high opinion of homeopathy. The fact that they even tried the Chestal tells you just how desperate we parents feel when a child is wheezing and barking!

  • Shelley Goldbeck

    We suspect my granddaughter is celiac. If she has any gluten when she has a cold, she gets croup. Before we figured out gluten was an issue, she had croup a lot, requiring hospitalization because the home remedies didn’t help. Perhaps this info will be useful to others.

  • Brittany

    All 4 of my boys went through an agonizing round of croup right after Thanksgiving. I used a lot of these same ideas. It was interesting that different things soothed different boys better. So if one thing doesn’t work, try something else. :)

    One thing I would add is that I used some really firmly gelled turkey broth and gave it to them as “turkey jello.” It doesn’t sound too appetizing, but they ate it okay and the cold gel soothed sore throats really well.

  • Melissa Toye

    Please note that peppermint essential oil should not be used in children under the age of two.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Really? I didn’t know that, Melissa – why not? I’ll add a note in the post now, thank you – Katie

    Joshua @ Natural Alternative Remedy Reply:

    It can be too much/too strong for their small systems to handle. This is also true for numerous traditional and alternative treatments. The ones they can use typically can only be used in extremely small doses, or when they’re highly diluted (in the case of oils).

    -Joshua

  • Ana

    I haven’t seem this mentioned anywhere but it is a simple home remedy for barking cough.
    Heat a spoon of sugar over the stove, it hardens and gets darker. Wait until it cools off and have your child suck on it. It works! I do it for my son right before bed and he sleeps though the night. This definitely relieves barky cough!

  • Julie@teachinggoodeaters

    One of my sons is extremely susceptible to croup. We had several very scary incidents when he was younger. We eventually realized that he is allergic to/ sensitive to dairy (he was never tested, we simply suspected it, removed it from his diet, and saw a huge difference.) He now only gets croupy when he has dairy. The dairy causes inflammation and the inflammation brings on the croup.

  • Sara Shay

    I remember having croup so many times as a kid. My daughter (the only kids who has had it so far) was 7 months – it was the scariest sounding thing. Not coincidentally, she is our first and we weren’t as into real food as we are now and did have all her shots before 3yrs.

    Helen @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Calvin was close to having it, his cough got really bad one night and we had to do the steamy bathroom/run outside to the winter air thing. We weren’t as healthy, he was formula fed, and a c-section. However I absolutely chalk his up to a dairy intolerance! He had ev.er.yth.ing. as a baby. RSV, bronchiolitis, hospitalized for pneumonia at 15 months. At 18 months we removed dairy, and that was the end of sickness!

  • Janice

    My two year old son has had croup more times than I can count. He had RSV at 7 months old for which he was hospitalized. We have made five trips to the ER for croup and four of those we have stay in hospital for 12 hours or more. When they see us arrive, they always know that he needs the steroids and epinephrine. The first time it happened, he was blue when we arrive at the ER. There were 9 hospital staff working on him. We haven’t tried any natural remedies, but would love to try them when we do see it coming on. He is having a bronchial scope at the children’s hospital in the next couple of weeks. His ENT is concerned there is something else going on. I will bookmark this site for future reference.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Oh, how scary Janice! Your little guy (and his scared momma) are in my prayers today. It sure would be nice to curb some of those symptoms before “blue” – but just remember that clearly there’s an important time and place for medical help. May the ENT figure out what’s up! Katie

  • Carrie

    Our three get croup when there are drastic weather changes; I’m wondering if there’s a link with barometric/atmospheric pressure. It has never been combined with cold or viral symptoms and one dose of homeopathic Spongia Tosta generally takes care of it.

  • Ashley Mauldin

    Hi! Just wanted to add that Peppermint essential oil is actually contraindicated for children under 6 due to the menthol content, and Eucalyptus essential oil is contraindicated for children under 10 due to the high 1,8 cineole content. Fir Needle (or any spruce or pine EO aside from Ponderosa or Huon Pine) and Spearmint are much safer alternatives. ;-)

Welcome!  Meet Katie.

I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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