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Croup or laryngotracheitis is a viral infection of the larynx (voice box) and the trachea (windpipe). The infection is normally localized at the upper and lower parts of the breathing tube, which usually causes the larynx and trachea to narrow due to swelling. As a result, it causes difficulties in breathing, characterized by a hoarse voice, barking cough and feeling of suffocation. The infection often increases mucus production which can then clog the airways. 
 
The most common virus that is associated with the condition is the parainfluenza virus, normally running its course in five to six days. However, in the past, coup was commonly caused by the measles virus. The condition is common among children or babies of age three months to three years, since they have narrower airways than that of adults. As they grow older, the condition becomes easier to control as their airways develop, becoming firmer and wider. Since more and more children are immunized against measles, the number of croup cases significantly decreased. However, it remains epidemic during winter seasons. 
 
Common symptoms of croup include a fever of 38ºC (100.4ºF), bark-like cough and runny nose. A person with this illness sounds more like they are barking than coughing. This “croupy” cough is caused by the breathing difficulty and thickened lining of mucus brought on by the swelling and infection of the vocal chords and larynx. Since the air passages tend to swell due to inflammation, the breathing of the sufferer could be laboured as the airway narrows. Other common symptoms of this illness are runny nose and hoarse throat. It may follow a cold or flu-type symptoms i.e. a loss of appetite and general aches and pains. The symptoms usually peak in 2 to 3 days but the irritating cough may last longer than a week or so. 
 
Milder cases of croup are usually treated at home. Using a similar approach as used to lower fever and manage flu, may bring relief to a person suffering from croup.
 
- Increasing the intake of fluids is very important – water, diluted fruit juice, herbal teas, homemade soups, smoothies can all help to thin out the mucus. Chicken broth made with thyme, garlic and onions is particularly effective.
 
- Avoid all dairy products as these increase mucous production – rice milk can be a good non-mucous forming alternative.
 
- Using a humidifier should help with breathing and help to loosen mucous. You can also add a natural inhalant such as Essential Care’s Breathe Ease.
 
- Manuka Honey is well known for helping to ease a troublesome cough and can be taken straight off the spoon or dissolved into a warm drink.
 
- Increase your intake of foods which contain Vitamin C, Zinc, Vitamin E and Vitamin A preferably in the form of food based beta carotene – see Immune Support
 
- Fresh cold air can also help to improve breathing and reduce the swelling or inflammation on the airways. 
 
- Avoid smoke from getting inside the room or the house for it will only cause more irritation. 
 
- Seek the help of a homeopath to get the right remedy for you or your child.
 
- Lastly, since croup is a viral infection, avoid antibiotics, short acting beta-agonists (asthma inhalers) or decongestants for they are not designed to bring relieve to such a condition. 
 
If the sufferer is already experiencing difficulty to breathing seek emergency help. Sometimes, a person may even suffer from uncontrollable drooling due to breathing difficulties, making him unable to swallow. Also, be wary of the person’s colour. A patient usually has a flushed or pink complexion due to the fever, but if they become blue or pale, seek urgent help. The change in colouring may be brought on by underlying conditions as in epiglottitis (inflammation of the flap of cartilage that closes the entry air passages to the voice box) or tracheaitis (inflammation of the windpipe). Inducing oxygen to the airways may be needed. 
 
Usually, the doctor’s diagnosis is based on the sound of the person’s cough and the symptoms that come with the coughing. He will also examine the inflammation that causes breathing difficulty and irritation to the air passage walls. He will then determine if the patient is safe to be treated at home. In some cases, steroid medicines may be prescribed as it helps ease out or reduce inflammation. Never give medicines that will make the patient drowsy for they need to remain alert to manage breathing difficulties.
 
Since croup is caused by a virus, it can be considered a communicable disease. It can spread through infected droplets of moisture that may be carried through the air. Just like in a cough and sneezes, it can easily be transferred from one person to another especially among children. However, practicing good personal hygiene can help prevent the spread of croup. Teaching children to regularly wash their hands and cough or sneeze into a hanky can help. 
 
Always try to encourage a healthy diet to keep the body and the immune system in optimum health.
 
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NB. This information is in no way intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you are unsure as to the suitability of any of the products or recommendations with regard to your condition please consult your doctor. If your doctor does not approve of complementary medicine it may be helpful to find one who does. 

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