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There are lots of coughs, colds, and flu at this time of year. Another common infection you’ll often see in children is croup. Generally, croup will be a once-off, but some kids are prone to recurrent infection. The good news is that there are natural croup treatment and prevention strategies that can help.
Watch the video below or keep reading to learn more about natural options for croup treatment and prevention.
Natural Croup Treatment And Prevention Strategies
What is croup?
Croup is a condition where a virus causes swelling in the larynx and trachea in the windpipe. This leads to a harsh barking cough and a high-pitched noise when inhaling, known as stridor. The swelling can also make it difficult to breathe.
Croup occurs mostly in winter, and younger children between 6 months and 5 years are most likely to develop it. It’s often a secondary infection that starts with a cold, cough or fever, then develops into croup. Some children are prone to developing croup whenever they have a cold, and can have multiple infections in a year.
Most cases of croup will self-resolve, but it’s a good idea to seek medical advice if you are concerned. In severe cases, the skin between the ribs and under the neck will ‘suck in’ when breathing, so if this occurs, see your GP.
Doctors may prescribe steroidal medications to reduce the swelling and ease symptoms. Some kids may also be given antibiotics. However, antibiotics are not beneficial for croup, as it’s a virus, not bacteria! Both antibiotics and steroid medications can have negative impacts on the immune system and gut, so it’s best to use them only when necessary.
There is another type of croup that is not caused by a virus, known as spasmodic croup. This is caused by either an allergy or reflux. Spasmodic croup will often come on suddenly – you put them to bed fine, and they wake in the middle of the night with a barking cough.
Why are some kids more prone to croup?
As a naturopath, I often see kids who experience recurrent croup. Most of the time, these kids have some kind of allergy or atopic condition. They will have a food allergy or intolerance, environmental sensitivities, hayfever, eczema, asthma or a combination.
The science supports this. Research has found that kids with a history of croup are at higher risk of developing asthma. Kids who have recurrent croup are often diagnosed with asthma a few years later.
Acute croup treatment strategies
If your child currently has croup, here are some tips to help relieve symptoms naturally.
Keep your child well hydrated
As croup is usually caused by a viral infection, you want to make sure you keep your child hydrated. This helps to ensure the mucus is thin and clears easily, which reduces inflammation around the area.
If your child doesn’t want to drink water, you can offer them some ice cubes to suck on. This can soothe their symptoms and reduce the swelling. Some soothing bone broth or soup is another way to boost their overall nutrition while keeping them hydrated.
It’s important that whoever is caring for your child is calm. Struggling to breathe is scary for your child, so if you’re panicking, it will make them panic and exacerbate their symptoms. Whichever parent or caregiver is best at staying calm is the best choice!
Expose them to cold air
Cold air can ease the symptoms and reduce inflammation, giving them immediate relief. You can bundle them up and take them outside if it’s a cold day. If you’d rather keep them inside, you can open the fridge door and have them pop their head in and breathe deeply.
Steam is a controversial croup treatment, as many medical sites say that it is no longer recommended. However, some of my clients have found it helpful to treat with cold air followed by steam. You can steam using hot water from the shower or bath in a closed bathroom.
Many parents also swear by humidifiers and vaporisers. There is no hard science that shows these are helpful, but many say they seem to help with symptoms.
Use a natural chest rub
Chest rubs can be a good soothing option for a child with croup. There are good options out there that use all-natural ingredients and essential oils. One of my favourites is the 1 2 3 Nourish Me Chesty Rub.
See a practitioner for liquid herbs
Liquid tinctures are often helpful for symptomatic relief. Different herbs will suit different presentations, so it’s essential you seek a professional who can prescribe the best combination for your child.
Some of my favourite herbs for croup include licorice, thyme, ginger, and white horehound. These are also beneficial for those prone to croup, as they help to ‘tone’ the respiratory system.
Tips for preventing chronic croup infections
Acute croup treatment is helpful, but it may not be enough to address the underlying causes. If your child is prone to croup, these tips will help rebalance the immune system and reduce their risk of contracting croup.
Include immune-boosting nutrients
As most cases of recurrent croup are caused by a virus, we want to focus on supporting the immune system. We know that our kids are grotty little creatures, so they are exposed to bugs everywhere – at childcare, school, visiting friends and even the supermarket. If we strengthen their immune defences, it’s more likely that microbes will be detected and fought off before symptoms develop.
The 3 nutrients I always look at for immune support are vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc. These nutrients increase the activity of neutrophils, which are the immune system’s first line of defence.
Your child’s vitamin D levels are likely to be lower over winter, due to reduced sun exposure and outdoor play time. Research has shown that low vitamin D levels are associated with a higher risk of respiratory infections.
We do want to ensure that these nutrients are present in the diet. As these nutrients are beneficial for a range of reasons, parents might consider boosting the intake via a supplement to their kids 2-3 times a week over winter to stave off the germs.
But if a child has recurring croup, treatment with a daily supplement may be warranted. In this case, it’s best to work with a practitioner who can compound the supplements into one daily supplement that is easy to take.
Consider medicinal mushrooms
When it comes to herbal formulas for croup, my favourite is medicinal mushrooms. Medicinal mushrooms are ideal because they strengthen the defensive side of the immune system, while also balancing the atopic side of immunity.
I’ve seen great results in my clinic using mushrooms such as reishi, shiitake and coriolus. However, as medicinal mushrooms are quite specific and potent, I recommend consulting with a practitioner about which type and dose will be best for your child’s needs.
Look for potential sensitivities and intolerances
One way to lighten the load on the immune system is to remove anything that might be triggering it. Many kids with recurrent croup have food sensitivities. In my experience, the most common intolerance for these kids is dairy.
Eliminating dairy is a big step, as you want to do it strictly for at least 6 weeks. Although some kids may improve by using lactose-free products, these products still contain casein, a milk protein that can be problematic. Some kids who are sensitive to casein may still be able to have A2 milk. But it’s best to eliminate all dairy for 6 weeks, then reintroduce either A2 milk or lactose-free milk and monitor their symptoms.
Not all kids will need to stop having dairy, which is why I recommend working with a practitioner. We can assess whether removing dairy is needed based on your child’s symptoms, and support you throughout the process.
Support optimal gut health
We know that a healthy gut is an essential part of strengthening and regulating the immune system. The state of the gut will also have a significant impact on childhood conditions like asthma and eczema. So if you’re dealing with recurrent croup, you want to be optimising gut health to rebalance immunity. For more information about building a healthy gut, you can download my free Gut Health ebook here.
Keep your kids healthy this winter!
Get your Free copy of our Foods To Boost Immunity Cheat Sheet here.