The bottom line: Steam can't hurt and it may help, says Dr. Brown. Always call your health care provider first, however, for an over-the-phone evaluation.
Your baby wakes up barking like a seal in the middle of the night -- the classic symptom of croup (a viral illness common in babies over 6 months) -- so you head for the bathroom and turn on the shower to fill his lungs with steam, right? Well, a new study has just indicated that the time-honored treatment of using humidity to quiet the painful-sounding cough doesn't help at all. Researchers at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto took a group of 140 kids age 3 months or older with moderate to severe croup and treated some with humidity and some without. The children who were treated with humidity had no significant reduction in symptoms compared to those who weren't. So should you ditch the steamy bathroom for good? Not necessarily, says Ari Brown, M.D., coauthor of Baby 411: Clear Answers & Smart Advice for Your Baby's First Year. "The study only looked at kids with serious croup who were in an emergency room, but a steamy bathroom or cool night air still may work for infants with mild symptoms -- and plenty of parents swear that it does."