Being a parent means dealing with a lot of sickness, and some illnesses are tougher to watch your child go through than others. Unfortunately, HGTV star Tarek El Moussa revealed that his son with his ex-wife Christina recently had a case of croup that was so bad, he needed to go to the hospital.
“So my Big Boy has croup over the weekend while he was with grandma,” El Moussa captioned a photo on Instagram of their son Brayden, 3, lying in a hospital bed.
“It is always very scary to see your child having a hard time breathing. 911 was called and he was taken to hospital in an ambulance," he continued. "I’m sharing this to remind people it’s okay to ask for help in scary situations.”
Thankfully, Brayden seems to be on the mend. Christina later shared a photo on Instagram of what appears to be Brayden cuddling with their French bulldog, alongside the caption, “Reunited and it feels so good.”
Croup is an infection of the upper airway that typically happens in younger children.
"It is one of the most common causes of respiratory distress in the first decade of life," Melissa Held, M.D., an infectious disease expert with Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, tells SELF.
The infection can obstruct a child’s breathing and cause what's described as a “barking” cough, which is often the hallmark symptom of the condition, the Mayo Clinic says. Croup can also cause a fever, a hoarse voice, and difficult or noisy breathing.
These symptoms happen due to swelling that occurs around the larynx (the vocal cords), trachea (windpipe), and bronchi (bronchial tubes). When the person coughs, it forces air through a narrowed passage, creating a noise that sounds almost like a seal barking, the Mayo Clinic explains. Taking a deep breath can also make a high-pitched whistling sound if you are dealing with croup.
Croup is usually caused by a viral infection, like parainfluenza virus, which can also cause laryngitis in adults, Gina Posner, M.D., a pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif., tells SELF. The infection usually starts out as a cold and then, if there’s enough inflammation and coughing, the barking cough will develop, the Mayo Clinic says. The cough usually gets worse at night, or if the child cries or is anxious or worked up.
Although the cough may sound pretty terrible, croup usually isn’t serious.
“Usually, croup can be treated at home without any medicines,” Ashanti Woods, M.D., a pediatrician at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, tells SELF. Symptoms typically last for three to five days and then clear up, per the Mayo Clinic. To treat your child at home, try keeping them comfortable and calm (since crying makes things worse), have your child sit upright to help make breathing easier, make sure they drink plenty of fluids, and encourage them to get rest, the Mayo Clinic says. If they have a fever, you can try a fever-reducing over-the-counter medication, like acetaminophen, to bring it down, Dr. Posner says.
While it hasn’t been scientifically proven to help, moistening the air, like with a humidifier or by having your child sit in a steamy bathroom, may help your child breathe easier, Dr. Posner says. While it may sound counterintuitive, stepping outside into cool air and having your child breathe it in can also help, Dr. Woods says. "The cold air is thought to temporarily alleviate the swelling and inflammation around the vocal cords," he explains.
Again, most cases of the croup clear up with at-home TLC, but about 5 percent of kids who go to the ER with croup do need to be hospitalized, the Mayo Clinic says.
Head to the ER if your child makes noisy, high-pitched sounds when they breathe in and out; starts drooling or has trouble swallowing; seems anxious or tired; is breathing at a faster rate than normal or struggling to breathe; or if they develop a blue or grayish tone to the skin around their nose, mouth, or fingernails.
If you're not totally sure whether your child's symptoms warrant an ER visit—they’re making a wheezing sound but seem OK otherwise, for example—you can bring them to the pediatrician to have them checked out, Dr. Posner says. The same goes for if your child has persistent fevers for more than a few days, difficulty with keeping down fluids, or if they aren't peeing as much (which can be a sign of dehydration), Dr. Held says. “If you’re ever concerned, bring them in,” Dr. Posner says.
If your child’s symptoms last longer than three to five days or seem to be getting worse, a doctor will usually prescribe a type of steroid called a glucocorticoid to reduce inflammation, the Mayo Clinic says—it should kick in within six hours. Epinephrine can also help quickly reduce the child’s airway inflammation, but this is usually used in an ER setting in rare cases if a child is struggling to get oxygen in, Dr. Woods notes. In severe cases, a temporary breathing tube may need to be put in a child’s windpipe to help them breathe, the Mayo Clinic says.
If your child develops croup, don’t panic. “Most of the time, children with croup are fine,” Dr. Posner says.