Croup in Adults: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

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Croup in adultsDo you ever remember barking like a seal when sick as a child?

The respiratory infection known as croup is usually seen in children but can, on rare occasions, occur in adults.

Croup in adults, as in children, is highly contagious. One must take all precautions to avoid spreading the illness as it can lead to serious complications for some adults.

What Is Croup?

The medical term for croup is laryngotracheobronchitis. This disease directly affects the lungs, the larynx (voice box), and the trachea (wind pipe).

Any inflammation of these areas can produce the harsh coughing sound. In addition to sounding like a barking seal, you may also have a high-pitched whistle as you inhale due to the narrowing of the airway.

Croup in Adults

Croup is not often seen in adults, but when it is, it presents as an upper-airway respiratory condition. This can cause deep coughing fits that may produce pain in chest and severe breathing issues.

Those with existing respiratory health conditions are at risk for complications with the onset of this virus, which peaks in the fall and winter seasons of the year. So, how long does croup last in adults? It highly depends on the length of time the virus is present and whether the infected person takes the proper precautions such as rest.

Croup in Adults Causes

Caused by the para influenza virus, croup in adults is often seen during outbreaks of the common cold. This airborne viral infection is easily spread during coughs and sneezing episodes. As with the cold or flu infections, croup in adults can quickly run through a household. According to MD Health, your family members have a 15% chance of contracting it from you.

Croup in Adults Symptoms

Croup can creep up on you as it usually begins with a regular cough, fever, and a runny nose, much like cold symptoms. The first two to four days is referred to as the incubation period where your symptoms are mild. Once the croup takes hold, you can expect:

  • Harsh cough
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Seal-like bark when coughing
  • Whistling sound upon inhaling
  • Hoarseness
  • Red patches on skin

Your symptoms may present worse at night, especially when lying down due to the airway inflammation. Although the throat region is swollen, you shouldn’t expect any issues with swallowing.

Croup in Adults Treatment and Prevention

The mild symptoms of croup in adults can be treated at home with little cause for concern. Seek immediate medical attention with any signs of extreme fatigue, severe breathing difficulty, expelling of drool, or signs of lack of oxygen such as the skin turning blue.

Despite the frightening noise from coughing, the best thing you can do is remain calm to avoid stimulating stress hormones that can make it worse. Create a steam room in your bathroom or with a vaporizer in your bedroom to curb the cough that accompanies the inflammation. A croup cough responds to a slightly cooler steam than a hot water steam as the windpipe is narrowed from the inflammation. Drinking warm fluids will also help soothe the throat and ease cough.

Prevent future episodes and the spread of the disease with the same precautions of the common cold. Wash hands frequently, cover the mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, keep surfaces germ-free, and avoid sharing personal items during cold and flu outbreaks.

Croup in adults is rarely seen, but when it occurs, it can cause more serious complications and symptoms than seen in children. The inflammation of your breathing passages and voice box can cause you to sound like a seal barking during a coughing fit and a train whistle as you breathe in. Treat mild symptoms with rest and steam while preventing any reoccurrence with old-fashioned hand washing techniques.

Carteaux, C., “Croup in Adults,” Med Health Daily;, last accessed March 8, 2017.