What may be causing my child's barking, seal-like cough?

In general, seal bark = croup. Croup is a viral infection that causes swelling of the upper airway, voice box, and windpipe (not the lungs). It produces a distinctive barky, seal-like cough and hoarse voice. Older kids and adults usually only get a loud cough and hoarse voice or just cold symptoms. Because it’s a virus, antibiotics won’t help.

In newborns, infants, and toddlers, the inflammation can sometimes be severe enough to produce stridor—a loud, harsh sound heard when your child breathes in that may be associated with trouble breathing. The second or third night tends to be worse, so even if your child seems fine the next
day, talk to your pediatrician to see if treatment is needed.
To help decrease stridor, spend 20 minutes with your child outside in the cool night air or in a steam-filled bathroom. Running a humidifier or vaporizer in her bedroom at night may also help.

Mommy Calls: Dr. Tanya Answers Parents' Top 101 Questions About Babies and Toddlers

In a child who is ill, a barky cough is usually caused by one of 5 common cold viruses.  If the illness is severe enough to cause noisy breathing or any respiratory distress, it is often referred to as “croup”, even though croup is more of a “symptom” than an illness. If your child has a barky cough and extra effort breathing or noisy breathing, we’d recommend seeing your doctor today.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.