What Is Croup In Adults?

By becky
Reviewed: Dr. Gromatzky
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Croup is a medical condition that typically impacts the respiratory system. It is signified by the narrowing of the airways, creating a difficulty breathing and bark-like cough. Though it is predominantly an ailment that develops in children, there are instances where an adult has been diagnosed with croup. Adults are less likely to develop croup because the respiratory system strengthens as a person gets older. Children or individuals with weakened immune systems have respiratory systems that are more susceptible to inflammation that leads to croup.

Cases of croup in adults are so rare that there have only been a few dozen cases around the world over the last few years. Still, it is important to recognize the signs of this ailment in order to spot it early and undergo the most helpful treatment.

Croup In Adults

1. How Does Croup Develop in Adults?

Croup is the result of one of several viruses. The most common viruses responsible for croup are the influenza virus and parainfluenza virus 1. These viruses tend to be the easiest to contract in the colder months when people spend more time indoors, which can put them in close contact with other people. These viruses are typically spread through fluids in the mouth and are easy to be exposed to when an infected person coughs or sneezes near you in an enclosed area. The virus will then settle in the respiratory system, where it may develop into croup.

There are several other viruses and conditions that might cause croup. Inflammation in the upper parts of the respiratory system can occur due to effects from the measles virus or a common cold. Allergic reactions and chronic acid reflux have also been reported as conditions that can lead to croup in children and adults.

Croup In Adults

2. What Are Common Symptoms of Croup in Adults?

The most common symptom associated with croup is a barking cough. The swollen state of the throat makes it difficult for air to pass through, which can make a person sound like a dog or seal when coughing. As with most viral infections, croup will also cause a person to develop a fever and experience many of the symptoms associated with the common cold, like a runny nose. Breathing will also sound strained, with some people experiencing a wheezing or high-pitched grating noise due to obstruction and inflammation in the airway.

While these are the same symptoms found in both children and adults, evidence suggests that adults will experience these in a much more intense way.

Croup In Adults

3. How Long Does Croup Last in Adults?

For children, croup is a very short-lived condition. A child who develops a viral infection that leads to croup will experience the symptoms for an average of five days. With treatment for the infection, the child will typically feel normal within a week. Since the condition is much rarer in adults, croup can have a more serious impact on an older person’s health. Many adults with croup will require hospitalization and, in some cases, might be placed in an ICU until the condition is controlled and the symptoms lessen.

The best way to limit the long-term damage of croup in adults is by acting fast at the first signs of trouble. If you or someone you know experiences trouble breathing, a barking cough, fever, and fatigue all together, visit with a primary care physician to determine what is causing the distress.

Croup In Adults

4. How Do Doctors Diagnose Croup in Adults?

The symptoms of croup are not exclusive to this condition. In fact, there are many respiratory conditions that can bring about flu-like symptoms, difficulty breathing, and inflammation. The easiest way for a doctor to determine what is happening is by listening to the quality of the cough and using a stethoscope to discern what might be upsetting the respiratory system. In some cases, the doctor might require an X-ray to rule out other conditions. The throat might also be swabbed to get a sample of whatever viral infection caused the croup.

As with most conditions, it is best to respond to the first sign of symptoms. Waiting too long can cause croup to worsen. In adults, this might cause long-term health consequences that negatively impact the respiratory system.

Croup In Adults

5. What Are Treatment Options for Croup?

Once a primary care physician has diagnosed croup in an adult, he or she will offer several potential treatments depending on the specifics of the case. It is common for an adult to be prescribed a steroid. This is a common treatment for most respiratory conditions, as steroids are able to ease swollen airways. Since the condition can be worse in adults, hospitalization might be required. Depending on the severity of the case, the stay could take longer than it would for a case of similar severity in a child.

Though rare, many cases of croup in adults require the patient to be given a breathing tube. If the airways are too swollen, the tube can be vital and make the experience less stressful. Recovery times will vary depending on the patient.

Croup In Adults

6. Are There Home Treatments for Croup Symptoms?

While you definitely need to consult with a doctor if you’re experiencing difficulty breathing, there are ways to treat the symptoms of croup at home. Whether you’re waiting to get an appointment with a physician or you are already recovering and need to get rest, certain home remedies might help. Humidifiers moisten the air in dry spaces and are known to ease breathing for those with respiratory difficulties. Staying hydrated and getting proper sleep are also crucial for optimal immune function, so you’ll want to drink lots of water and stay in bed while you recover.

Basic pain medicines can also help with the symptoms related to fever. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen are both effective, but be wary of taking any over-the-counter pain relievers if you’re already on other medications. Consult a doctor before taking anything.

Croup In Adults

7. Can Croup in Adults Be Prevented?

Though rare in adults, preventing croup in anyone requires the same precautionary steps as avoiding other seasonal viruses and common colds. Wash your hands often, especially when you are out in public. Viruses spread through airborne droplets that originate in the nose and mouth. Should you get these droplets on your hands after touching a contaminated surface, like a doorknob, you can spread the virus to yourself by touching your face, eyes, or mouth. Carry hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes for an extra level of protection during the times of year when viruses are common.

Avoiding those who are sick is also a good precautionary measure. A child who has croup can easily pass it to other children and might spread it to a susceptible adult. Steer clear of anyone who was recently sick to diminish your odds of catching anything.

Croup In Adults

8. Is Croup in Adults Only the Result of Viral Infection?

While viral infection is the most common way for a person to develop croup, it is not the only way. There are some cases where a bacterial infection was the cause. Croup in adults is rare as it is, and a bacterial infection causing croup is rare in and of itself. Still, a bacterial infection that leads to croup will be labeled as either laryngeal diphtheria, bacterial tracheitis, laryngotracheobronchopneumonitis, or laryngotracheobronchitis. The treatment will depend on which category the bacterial infection falls into and which symptoms are the most persistent.

A bacterial infection is very different than one from a viral source. The infections cannot be treated in the same manner. If you are unsure of the cause of your condition, consult with a doctor.

Croup In Adults

9. Can Croup in Children Be Dangerous?

Croup is much more common in children than in adults. For the most part, a bout with croup will last somewhere between three and five days. Still, this doesn’t mean that all cases are so simple. A child who shows persistent symptoms of croup should be taken to a doctor. However, certain symptoms require immediate medical attention. Visit an emergency room if you notice your child has severe difficulty breathing, discoloration of the skin and lips, or severe agitation. These can all indicate a more intense case of croup that requires more involved treatment.

Severe cases are not as common in children. In a majority of cases, a visit to the doctor and a few days of rest will be enough to have a little one feeling back to normal.

Croup In Adults

10. Are There Additional Ways to Manage Croup?

For children and adults, time is the best way to manage croup. After receiving medical attention and treatment from a doctor, rest is all a person can do. In cases where an individual must remain in the hospital, additional oxygen or medications can be administered to assist with certain symptoms. For those recovering at home, ample fluids and sleep are key to a speedy recovery. Only take over-the-counter treatments approved by a doctor and avoid cough medications, as these are not effective with lessening the severity or duration of croup symptom.

Croup might not be a common ailment in adults, but this does not mean it is impossible to contract. Reduce the odds of serious viral infection by following simple handwashing procedures and responding fast to the first signs of trouble.

Croup In Adults

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