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  • Also known as laryngotracheobronchitis
  • Typically affects ages 6 mo-3 yr (peak in 2nd year)
    • Most common in fall & winter
  • Etiology
    • Parainfluenza (50%), RSV, rhinovirus
    • Consider Diphtheria if not immunized
  • Spasmodic croup
    • Sudden onset of barking cough/stridor
    • No viral prodrome, unlike standard croup
    • Difficult to differentiate from croup
  • Must rule-out foreign body

Clinical Features

  • 1-2 day of URI followed by barking cough and stridor
  • Low-grade fever
  • NO drooling or dysphagia
  • Duration = 3-7d, most severe on days 3-4

Westley Croup Score[1][2]

Helps to stratify patients into mild moderate and severe and guide treatment

Parameter 0 Point 1 Point 2 Points 3 Points
Inspiratory stridor None When agitated On/off at rest Continuous at rest
Retractions None Mild Moderate Severe
Air Entry Normal Decreased Mod decreased Severely decreased
Cyanosis None When crying At rest
Alertness Alert Restless, anxious Depressed


  • <2 Very mild
  • 2-9 Mild to moderately severe
  • >9 Severe croup

Differential Diagnosis

Pediatric stridor


  • Laryngotracheomalacia
    • Accounts for 60%
    • Usually exacerbated by viral URI
    • Dx w/ flexible fiberoptic laryngoscopy
  • Vocal cord paralysis
    • Stridor associated w/ feeding problems, hoarse voice, weak and/or changing cry
    • May have cyanosis or apnea if bilateral (less common)
  • Subglottic stenosis
    • Congenital vs 2/2 prolonged intubation in premies
  • Airway hemangioma
    • Usually regresses by age 5
    • Associated w/ skin hemangiomas in beard distribution
  • Vascular ring/sling


  • Croup
    • viral laryngotracheobronchitis
    • 6 mo- 3 yr, peaks at 2 yrs
    • Most severe on 3rd-4th day of illness
    • Steeple sign not reliable- diagnose clinically
  • Epiglottitis
    • H flu type B
      • Have higher suspicion in unvaccinated children
    • Rapid onset sore throat, fever, drooling
    • Difficult airway- call anesthesia/ ENT early
  • Bacterial tracheitis
    • Rare but causes life-threatening obstruction
    • Sx of croup + toxic-appearing = bacterial tracheitis
  • Foreign body (sudden onset)
    • Marked variation in quality or pattern of stridor
  • Retropharyngeal abscess
    • Fever, neck pain, dysphagia, muffled voice, drooling, neck stiffness/torticollis/extension



  • Consider CXR if concerned about alternative diagnosis
    • Steeple sign on AP (not Sp, not Sn)
  • Consider nasal washings for RSV, parainfluenza, influenza serologies.


  • Often a clinical diagnosis


  • Cool mist
    • May provide symptomatic treatment for patients with ongoing stridor[3]
  • Steroids (first line treatment)
    • Dexamethasone 0.15-0.6mg/kg PO/IM (max 10mg)[4]
    • No differences between intramuscular and oral dexamethasone [5]
  • Onset 6 hrs, duration 72 hrs
  • Epinephrine (nebulized)
    • Use in moderate to severe cases based on the croup scores. Use either Racemic or Standard Epinephrine[6]
    • Symptomatic relief via local vasoconstriction
    • Racemic Epi (2.25%): 0.05 mL per kg (maximal dose: 0.5 mL) of racemic epinephrine 2.25% [7]
    • Epinephrine (1:1,000): 0.5 mL per kg (maximal dose: 5 mL) via nebulizer
    • Onset up to 30 min, duration 2 hrs
    • Watch child 2-3 hrs after administration to ensure no return of stridor at rest
  • Heliox
    • Mixture of helium and oxygen (with not less than 20% oxygen)
    • Low viscosity and low specific gravity facilitates laminar airflow through the respiratory tract.
    • Currently there is a lack of evidence to establish the effect of heliox inhalation in the treatment of croup in children[8]
  • Intubation
    • Rarely needed but if so, use tube that is one half size smaller than normal for age/size of pt
  • Do NOT give albuterol (may worsen edema (vasodilation))


  • Consider Discharge if:
    • 3hr since last epinephrine
    • Able to tolerate PO
    • Nontoxic appearance
  • Admit
    • Persistent respiratory symptoms/signs
    • ≥2 treatments with epinephrine


See Also

Bronchiolitis (RSV)

External Links


  1. Westley CR, et al. Nebulized racemic epinephrine by IPPB for the treatment of croup: a double-blind study. Am J Dis Child. 1978; 132(5):484-487.
  2. Klassen TP, et al. Croup. A current perspective. Pediatr Clin North Am. 1999; 46(6):1167–1178.
  3. Scolnik D, Coates AL, Stephens D, Da Silva Z, Lavine E, Schuh S. Controlled delivery of high vs low humidity vs mist therapy for croup in emergency departments. JAMA. 2006;295(11):1274–1280
  4. Geelhoed GC, Macdonald WB. Oral dexamethasone in the treatment of croup: 0.15 mg/kg versus 0.3 mg/kg versus 0.6 mg/kg. Pediatr Pulmonol. 1995;20(6):362–368.
  5. Donaldson D, Intramuscular versus oral dexamethasone for the treatment of moderate-to-severe croup: a randomized, double-blind trial. Acad Emerg Med. 2003 Jan;10(1):16-21.
  6. Adair JC, Ring WH, Jordan WS, Elwyn RA. Ten-year experience with IPPB in the treatment of acute laryngotracheobronchitis. Anesth Analg. 1971;50(4):649–55
  7. Westley CR, Cotton EK, Brooks JG. Nebulized racemic epinephrine by IPPB for the treatment of croup: a double-blind study. Am J Dis Child. 1978;132(5):484–487
  8. Moraa I, Sturman N, McGuire T, van Driel ML., Heliox for croup in children., Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Dec 7;12:CD00682