Teddy’s Croup

Or, Sarah tries to explain why this croup isn’t the same as your kid’s croup.

Last night, Teddy and I went to the ER for Teddy’s 12th (14th?) round of croup.

“Why don’t you just take him out in the cold air/use cool mist?”
“Can’t you get a nebulizer?”
“Why don’t you use an inhaler/albuterol?”
“Who goes to the ER for croup?”

That’s what I hear basically every time we do this.

This blog attempts to answer those questions and more.

First, Teddy’s croup tends to be moderate or severe. The croup that most kids get, and with which most parents are familiar, is mild croup. Bet you didn’t know there is actually a rating scale for croup. 🙂  http://www.rch.org.au/clinicalguide/guideline_index/croup_laryngotracheobronchitis/   and https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2003/179/7/croup-assessment-and-evidence-based-management     Croup is basically swelling/inflammation of certain parts of the airway because of a virus (a variety of viruses). The airway gets inflamed and creates that barking cough sound.

Teddy has subglottal stenosis (narrowing of airway below vocal cords). His stenosis is mild and of unknown cause (potentially damage from previous intubations, but surgical notes don’t really give any reason to suspect this – but neither do they give reason to suspect he was born with it). But his ENT thinks it plays a role here – likely in why his croup gets so severe so fast (more on that later), but not necessarily in why he gets it so darn often. Nobody has any current theories about that. Likely a combination of immune suppression plus the stenosis.

The signs I look for at home as a signal that we should head to the ER are:
– Lethargy. Is he putting so much effort into breathing that he has no energy for anything else?
– Stridor at rest. Does he have stridor (noisy breathing – not wheezing) when resting?
– Retractions. Are parts of his body sucking in when he’s trying to breathe? Like the spaces between his ribs, around his collarbone or his sternum?
– Drooling.

What we don’t look at: o2 saturation. Evidently, O2 sats are a poor measure of severity of croup. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2004/0201/p535.html    By the time O2 sats are low enough to cause concern with croup, it’s really super bad. You don’t want to be home. The one time we showed up in the ER with sats in the 80s with croup, they became a virtual tornado of activity, completely skipping the rest of triage and running to meet the respiratory therapist. I waited a bit too long that time to go in.

Second, why don’t we treat it at home like normal people? Well, that’s a two part answer.  To start, “normal” at home treatments have been proven to be completely ineffective. Despite every other medical website out there recommending it, cool mist has been proven ineffective. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12208675)  Cold air can be mildly effective.

Also, Albuterol isn’t a treatment for croup. Albuterol is a bronchodialater that relaxes muscles. That works great for asthma, COPD, etc. but spasming muscles aren’t what cause croup – it’s tissue inflammation. “The use of albuterol in the treatment… of croup is ineffective and can delay needed care. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/708193_3   “Albuterol breathing treatments don’t help the voice box swelling caused by croup, and hence don’t make the stridor better. Albuterol is effective for treating the wheezing associated with asthma or reactive airway disease.”  http://childrensmd.org/browse-by-age-group/newborn-infants/croup-hit/

We do have a nebulizer at home and I can give him saline treatments with it. However, that isn’t usually a very realistic solution.

Teddy’s croup goes like this, every single time: Go to bed, perfectly healthy. Wake up some time in the wee hours and have a slight horse cough. Mom gets up and gets the prednisolone. Within the space of 20-30 minutes, he is lethargic, has stridor when resting, retracts while breathing, etc., and we end up having to go to the ER. Usually, he has also vomited the steroid (the severe coughing gets him gaggy). There just isn’t time to try a saline nebulizer treatment, or whatever else. When we see those symptoms, we are to go to the ER.

Third, why do wego to the ER? Well for one, the meds he needs to treat the croup aren’t available for home use. I can give him the relatively mild prednisolone at home, but in the ER, he can get a much stronger steroid. The nebulizer meds they use to treat him are similarly only available in the hospital – not at home. (http://www.rch.org.au/clinicalguide/guideline_index/croup_laryngotracheobronchitis/)

The main reason we go to the ER – and the reason why the meds aren’t available at home – is that by the time you’re bad enough to need the big meds, you’re bad enough to NEED to be in a hospital. Airway collapse is a legitimate concern with severe croup, and it’s important to be somewhere where there are people who can intubate if things get bad enough.

*You cannot/should not treat moderate/severe croup at home.*

He has been able to stay home a few times with croup. We’ve given the prednisolone and kept him comfortable and calm and it didn’t get worse. It stayed at mild croup. That’s totally treatable at home, just like normal kids. 🙂

But even normal kids should go the ER if their croup progresses to include the symptoms I listed above. Severe croup is not common at all, but it isn’t anything to mess around with.

So hopefully that explains why Teddy goes to the ER for croup.


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