Fort Worth, Texas,
12:06 PM

Is it Croup or Whoop?

Dr. Diane explains the difference

Parents get croup and whooping cough mixed up all the time at my office.

I think it’s really important to know the difference – one is fairly common, and the other is much more rare – and can be deadly.

Croup is a common viral infection I see daily. It is caused by a virus, and can cause a high fever, runny nose, sore throat, and cough.

It can be scary sounding, and can show up out of nowhere. Your kiddo will SEAL BARK when they cough – it really does sound just like a seal. I can often hear it and diagnose it in the waiting room!

This virus makes the area around the voice box and the windpipe swell up. This makes them hoarse, and sometimes they have loud breathing with inhalation.

We treat it with comfort – kids often get scared of their own breathing and cough sounds, and it really makes their throat hurt – so give them ibuprofen or Tylenol, steamy showers, cool humidified air, popsicles, cold drinks. Your doc may prescribe steroids for it if they seem particularly hoarse or loud with breathing.

Most kiddos with croup do just fine at home – and they can get it more than once. However, very rarely the swelling of the windpipe is severe. If they are having a hard time breathing, seem short of breath, lethargic, won’t drink, some kids have to be seen at the hospital for support, breathing treatments, and care.

Whooping cough, or Pertussis, is a whole different beast. The word “whooping” came from the sound that babies make when they’re trying to inhale during the coughing fits of this awful bacterial infection.

Cough-cough-cough-WHOOOOOOOOP (catching breath)

Cough-cough-cough- WHOOOOOOOOP

It starts as a cold, then gets worse in a week or two. It is absolutely heartbreaking to see a baby struggle with whooping cough (watch a Youtube video of “Infant with Whooping Cough” like the one down below, courtesy of the Mayo Clinic and try not to tear up), and it can be deadly to them. They often stop breathing, and almost always must be hospitalized.

Pertussis is easily caught from others via coughed droplets in the air. Older kids and adults can catch it too, and it causes long fits of coughing – to the point of turning blue, or vomiting. Patients cough so much they commonly break ribs.

Antibiotics are given to make the person less contagious, but do not cure the illness or stop the symptoms.

The best protection from whooping cough is VACCINATION. We start this series at age 2 months, so that children are protected as young as possible.

Adults should get their pertussis booster – a.k.a. the Tdap or Tetanus shot at least every 10 years, or with every pregnancy (I and my husband both got it for both our kids).

Hope this helps clarify those confusing words we use for these special cough sounds!

More On This Topic:

Get to know Diane Arnaout, M.D.

"Dr. Diane" is a pediatrician at the Cook Children's Forest Park practice. If you would like to see her at Forest Park, call 817-336-3800 or click here for an appointment. Dr. Diane has been a Cook Children’s physician since 2011.

She got her undergraduate degree at Texas A&M University, went to medical school at the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio, and completed her pediatric residency in the Texas Medical Center at UT Health Science Center in Houston.

She is board-certified by the American Board of Pediatrics. She has two small kids, whom she credits as being her toughest (and best) teachers. She loves being a pediatrician and loves to teach parents all about their childrens’ health daily, both in-person and online.”

Click to learn more.

Comments (0)
Thank you for your message. It will be posted after approval.