A study released this week found a connection between chronic croup and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. You may have heard of croup, a common viral illness in infants and toddlers with a characteristic barking cough. In most cases, croup comes on suddenly in the middle of the night.
A Croup/Reflux Story
Whenever I think of croup and reflux, I think of a Reflux Mom I know who kept calling me about her toddler. Usually she would call me in the morning and give me the details of her long night:
My son woke up in the middle of the night with croup again. I turned on the shower and steamed up the bathroom, a common treatment for croup. His would not stop coughing and his breathing became worse and worse so I decided to head for the ER. Going out in the cold, damp air calmed his breathing so I just drove around until dawn while he slept peacefully in his car seat.
One night, she drove to the hospital ER but the coughing had stopped by the time they arrived so she sat in the parking lot of the hospital trying to decide if she should go in or not. Eventually she drove home and went to the pediatrician the next day but of course he was feeling fine by then.
One morning she called and gave me this update:
The croup is getting so frequent at night that I just put him in the car and drive around with the windows cracked so he could breathe the cool, damp air. I haven’t had a good night sleep in a long time so I am beyond exhausted. At about 4am, I drove into a ditch and had to be towed. I think the tow truck driver was wondering what I was doing driving with a baby in the back seat in the middle of the night. It scared me so much to think that I might have had a bad accident from falling asleep at the wheel that I am going to find out today why my baby keeps getting croup.
That was a turning point for her and she advocated for her son until his reflux was treated and his airway calmed down so everyone could stay home at night.
The researchers evaluated the airways of infants and toddlers with frequent croup and found that 33 percent had narrowing of the airway. In addition, 73 % of the children with evidence of airway narrowing also had Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. After treatment for GERD, the majority of the children improved with less croup.
Take Home Message
It is important to remember that croup is caused by several common viral illnesses so it is possible for an unlucky baby or toddler to have croup more than once. In addition, prematurity, asthma and allergies can increase the likelihood of croup. If your child has croup, it doesn’t mean she has acid reflux too. It just means she was exposed to any number of common virus germs in daycare or the store. On the other hand, if you are driving around in the middle of the night with a toddler who sounds like a barking seal, it is best to seek treatment, find out what is causing the chronic croup and put an end to driving into the night.