How to Recognize the the Sound of a Croup Cough in Your Child

Baby Coughing
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When it comes to children's health, there are a few common scenarios that can be quite scary for parents. Among these is the sound of a croup cough. However, as scary as it may sound when you understand what is happening, it becomes easier to manage.

Croup Cough Sound

Many upper respiratory infections can cause a cough and parents often use the term "croupy" to describe those coughs, but there is really only one croup cough sound.

What does it sound like? Most people describe a croup cough as sounding like a barking seal.

But since most of us (even those of us who have been to SeaWorld) have never heard a barking seal, that description isn't necessarily helpful.

A croup cough has also been described as the yelping of a fox or the barking of a dog. In 1814, John Cheyne, a British doctor, described a croup cough as a "most unusual cough, rough and stridulous." Other people use words like "deep" and "brassy" to describe the croup cough sound. That a cough is different or unusual is one of the best ways to know that you are dealing with croup.

Other distinctive features are that a child with croup will usually:

  • Be fine when he or she goes to bed and then wake up in the middle of the night with this type of an unusual cough (although some kids will have a runny nose, a mild fever, and a milder cough for 12 to 48 hours beforehand)
  • Have a hoarse voice or cry
  • Develop stridor, a high-pitched sound that is often mistaken for wheezing
  • Feel much better once he or she wakes up in the morning, only to have symptoms become worse again the next night

You may want to consider watching a few homemade videos on, in which parents film their children who have croup. Just search for "a croup cough." You can listen to the sound of a cough through the audio, which may help you figure out whether your child's cough is similar. 

Call or see your pediatrician right away if you think that your child has croup. Although many children have mild croup symptoms, croup can sometimes cause more serious, life-threatening infections.

Do Other Conditions Sound Like Croup Cough?

What else can sound like a croup cough? Fortunately, not too much.

In the old days, pediatricians would often worry about epiglottis when a child presented with a cough and stridor. (Epiglottis is an infection of the small flap of cartilage that's attached to the end of the tongue and closes when you swallow to prevent food from getting into the lungs.) Thanks to the Hib vaccine, the epiglottis is not something that kids get very often anymore.

Other conditions that can mimic croup include inhalation of a foreign body, trauma, angioneurotic edema (swelling of the airway), and bacterial tracheitis.

Diagnosis of Croup

Keep in mind that while it is often very easy to diagnose croup, it can sometimes be difficult to tell whether a child has viral croup or spasmodic croup. Each type of croup may have a different cause.

Some people think that spasmodic croup is triggered by allergies or even reflux. Viral croup can be caused by one of many different viruses, including parainfluenza, adenovirus, RSV, and influenza.

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Article Sources

Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Behrman: Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 19th ed.

  • Mandell: Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases, 7th ed.

  • Sobol SE. Epiglottitis and Croup. Otolaryngol Clin North Am. June 1, 2008. 41(3): 551-66.