Children under 5 years old infected with the Omicron variant of COVID-19 are now experiencing a unique symptom. Pediatricians across the country say they are seeing a spike in croup cases.
“We were seeing more patients with croup, and more patients were testing positive for COVID, which was something that we had not observed during earlier phases of previous surges with COVID,” Dr. Ashley Keilman, a specialist in pediatric emergency medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital says.
What is croup?
Croup is often brought on by parainfluenza respiratory viruses. It typically occurs when the upper airways become inflamed and can make breathing challenging. It is more common among kids because they have smaller airways than adults.
This inflammation in the voicebox, the windpipe and the bronchial tubes causes the child to have a loud distinctive cough that resembles a barking seal, according to CNN. If a child with croup tries to breathe, he or she may also produce a high-pitched whistle known as stridor.
Symptoms can clear up after about five days. However, for other kids, the symptoms don’t go away with home treatments.
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests calling a doctor if your child has these symptoms:
- A whistling sound that gets louder with each breath.
- Inability to breathe or speak easily.
- Bluish lips or fingernails.
- Difficulty swallowing saliva.
A spike in croup cases
According to Eric Ball, MD, a pediatrician at Children’s Health Orange County in Southern California COVID-19 cases started to spike in his young patients just before Christmas. While his older, vaccinated patients come in with mild symptoms, children under 5 appear to be more seriously affected by the disease.
“Croup is one of many things that we are seeing these kids present with,” Ball tells MedPage Today. “But, as a general rule, the people who have not had vaccines, which largely are the little children, are getting sicker than the people who have been vaccinated and have some protection against COVID.”
In the first weeks of 2022, Ball has admitted more children to the hospital for COVID-19 than he did for all of 2021.
“Omicron has proven itself to be an upper respiratory illness and an illness in the upper airway rather than the lower airways in the lungs and so, therefore, people are sort of blowing it off as a just a cold virus and no big deal. But I think what we’re seeing is that of the upper respiratory sort of infections, viral infections, croup is among the most severe and puts children in the ICU regularly,” says study co-author Dr. Indi Trehan, attending physician in infectious disease and virology and emergency medicine at Seattle Children’s.
“You know, as any parent will tell you, it’s one of the scariest things to see your child not be able to