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Infectious Diseases

Adult croup?

10/12/2000

Question:

Can an adult get croup? My 4 year old son and I have similar symptoms and his pediatrician says he has croup. Thanks for your time.

Answer:

The medical term for croup is acute laryngotracheobronchitis. In layman`s terminology, that means inflammation/irritation of the larynx (voice box), trachea (airway leading from the voice box into the lungs) and bronchi (smaller branching airways from the trachea into the lungs). Typically croup affects children between 3 months of age and 3 years, but it has been known to occur in older children, and even on rare occasions in adults. It is most common in the Fall or Winter; these are the times of the year when the viruses most likely to cause croup circulate commonly in the general population. Not everyone who gets infected with these viruses gets croup though. Croup is characterized by a non-productive brassy cough along with hoarseness and stridor (a high-pitched vibratory sound) that has been likened to the barking of a dog or yelping of a fox. These particular sounds are made as the air from breathing flows past these inflammed parts of the respiratory system (i.e. the larynx, trachea or bronchi); this is very similar to the concept of a whistle in which the pitch of the sound is determined by the flow of air through the whistle and how wide (or narrow) the hole for the whistle is. Children tend to have smaller caliber "tubes" (larynx, trachea and bronchi) for the air to flow through, and when there is inflammation these "tubes" become even smaller due to the swelling from the inflammation. The smaller caliber creates more high pitched sounds that lead to the classic croup sound. Since adults have wider "tubes" of the respiratory system, it is less likely that inflammation will cause narrowing enough to produce the classic croup, but it can occur on rare occasions.

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Response by:

Stephen   Kralovic, MD Stephen Kralovic, MD
Associate Professor
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati