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A Better Way to Treat Croup

If your baby has croup, a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract, chances are no one in your family is getting any sleep. The seal-like barking tends to get worse at night.

If you take your child outside into the cool night air or into a hot steamy bathroom, the cough may go away  -- temporarily. Now doctors have a treatment that can often banish the bark: a single dose of the steroid dexa-methasone, usually given as a crushed pill or liquid mixed into flavored syrup, jelly, or applesauce. A study in The New England Journal of Medicine found that the medication, long used to treat moderate to severe croup in children, with no side effects, works well for mild cases, too. Your doctor can prescribe it.

Most cases get better on their own in a few days anyway. A mild case may be just a cough, while a moderate illness might mean a cough, harsh-sounding breaths ("stridor"), and a slight caving in of the chest wall with every inhalation. (If your child becomes short of breath, seek emergency medical attention.) The good news: While croup is common in babies over 6 months, it occurs less frequently after age 3.