29 March 2010

Things I've Learned - Croup

In a nutshell: not as much fun as you'd think.

Before Thursday at 2:00 am, I'd never come face to face with croup before. That's when The Imp woke up, crying, struggling for breath and barking that awful seal-sounding cough. While I comforted him and listened to my baby pant and wheeze, my husband turned to Dr. Google and gave us a preliminary diagnosis of croup. We called the British Columbia free 24 hour nurse line (which if you're in BC and haven't taken advantage of, you really should - they've talked me off the ledge more than once), and they asked us all the right questions and made reassuring noises. Croup was confirmed by our actual in-the-flesh doctor on Friday morning.

The sum total of my experience with croup up to this point was, at the age of seven, having read L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables, where Anne's experience with raising Mrs. Hammond's three sets of twins helped her, with liberal use of ipecac, save the life of Diana's little sister, reconcile with Mrs. Barry, and be joyfully reunited with her bff. Not having any ipecac handy, I had no idea what to do. (And having since googled ipecac, it's a good thing we didn't have any!) To be honest, I thought croup was one of those old-timey words for an affliction we've since started calling something more scientific sounding - like consumption for tuberculosis.

Image scanged from this website

Summarizing what our doctor told me: croup is a swelling of the trachea, usually caused by viral infection. In an adult it would only cause a cold, but in a little person, since the involved body parts are smaller, any swelling can cause obstruction of the airway. So it basically manifests itself as wheezing, some struggling for breath, and coughing that sounds exactly (and disconcertingly) like a barking seal.

It's really awful to hear, but not uncommon, and usually goes away by itself after a few days. Temporary relief can be achieved by getting outside into fresh air (Hello bicycle rides!) or sitting in a steamy bathroom (my pores have never been so open). If it doesn't go away on its own, a one-time steroid treatment can be used to reduce the swelling and allow the body to heal.

What made this extra fun for us is that croup is often, as was our case, accompanied by a fever. The Imp has a history of febrile seizures, so that put us immediately on Seizure Watch 2010. Diligent temperature taking, administration of Tylenol and Advil at regular intervals, and much anxiety are the hallmarks of Seizure Watch. Add total parental sleeplessness into the mix and that makes for a pretty frazzled, short-tempered, emotionally draining experience.

Fortunately, The Imp took it pretty much in stride, as he does most things. He's gotten so accustomed to having his temperature taken that if we leave the digital thermometer where he can reach it, he picks it up and tries to stick it in his own armpit. He knows the words for Tylenol and Advil and can identify which drops are which by the shape/colour of the container. (Which alarms and saddens me more than a little, I must say.) He was distressed by the sound of his own coughing, and didn't sleep particularly well, but was comforted by snuggling up to me in bed - which punctuated for me why we don't co-sleep with him anymore; sharing the bed with him is like trying to cuddle up to a very localized tornado. With the exception of a 3 second episode on Friday morning, he was seizure free. His fever's been gone more than 24 hours and he's sleeping comfortably in his own crib as I type.

And if it wasn't for the storm, howling winds and pelting rain against the windows, I'd be sleeping too. After the last three days I certainly need it.

The takeaway:

1) Croup: an actual thing. Who knew?

2) It sounds worse than it is. Which is good because it sounds really really awful.

3) The impact of twitter on my daily life cannot be overstated. I received good advice, commiseration, sympathy and support, and relief in the humour of the zombie apocalypse.

4) This parenting stuff is hard, yo.


  1. I'm so glad someone else remembers Anne of Green Gables as well as I do! It's one of my top three books from childhood.

    Croup sucks the big suck. Em had it a few months ago and it was just never ending coughing and such. I hated it because you feel so helpless. Lucky for us we don't have the added stress of worrying about seizures which just makes the suckiness of croup that much suckier.

  2. Yes, the sucking suckiness of the suckage has been a bit much of a muchness.

    When we were in PEI a few years ago, I dragged my husband to Green Gables. He totally didn't get it, but saint that he is, came along for the ride anyway.

  3. OMG how crappy for you! I had croup as a kid and I still remember that sound! Glad he's come through ok!

  4. Interesting! I too thought croup was some old name for something else. Thanks for the link to the nurse line - I'm glad to know about that, and found an interesting job posting that I've just applied for with the PHSA to boot!

  5. I actually knew about croup from my days as a candy striper on the Pediatrics ward. One of my jobs was to set up 'croupettes', which were like big plastic tents with a humidifier hose on them. The idea was that sick babies could have a steamy bathroom in a hospital room.

    Interestingly, while I set up like 8000 croupettes (there wasn't much else to do) I never actually saw one in use. So even if croup isn't as old timey as it sounds, croupettes just might be.