Croup can be a particularly stressful part of winter. It is a childhood illness caused by a rhinovirus that infects the upper airways.

While it initially looks like the common cold, the cold symptoms change as the infection progresses, showing up like a seal-like barky cough, hoarseness and noisy breathing. The child's airway can swell, making breathing more difficult. Understandably, croup can be distressing for both children and parents alike.

Croup is most common among infants and toddlers between 6 months and 3 years of age. It usually lasts for five to six days and is more likely to occur in colder weather.

Children with croup can become seriously ill so it is important to seek medical help immediately if your child is struggling to breathe or speak, has difficulty swallowing, or becomes frightened and anxious.

Advertisement

Prevention is always best, and this is where plant medicine excels. Now is a great time to fortify the lungs and immune system, before the chill really sets in and bugs become more prevalent.

One of the best plant options available for children in prevention of and recovery from viral infections is Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea). This wonderful herb has been proven in a study by Schapowal, Klein and Johnston in 2015 to reduce the severity and duration of colds and influenza. It assists the body's natural healing process during infection and helps to clear congested mucus from the nasal and bronchial passages.

Another excellent plant for cold and flu is Elderflower (Sambucus nigra). Elderflower has been used medicinally for over 2500 years. A study by Ulbricht et al. in 2014 established its flowers and berries have proven antiviral and antibiotic properties and help to manage fever.

It is specifically useful for head colds, sinusitis, and helps to clear up runny noses and post-nasal drip.

In the case of croup, consider plant medicines that have an affinity for chest complaints for targeted relief. One of the best plants for relief from spasmodic coughs, is Thyme (Thymus vulgaris). The German Commission E monograph has given regulatory approval for this claim. Thyme helps to expel infectious phlegm as well as providing a cleansing antiseptic action. Similarly, Licorce (Glycyrrhiza glabra) helps to relax coughing fits by forming a protective layer upon irritated mucus membranes, in turn relieving inflammation and pain.

Remember that croup can improve during the day only to worsen again at night, so also consider Californian Poppy (Eschscholzia californica) to assist with sleep. This plant has been used historically to relax unwell children. Its pain relieving properties are especially useful for the barking cough specific to croup. Sleep is essential for recovery and also stops the night time coughing disrupting the whole family.

Steam inhalations with essential oils such as Thyme, Eucalyptus and Mint, and taking the child to a steamy bathroom while running a hot shower or bath provide instant humidity and relaxation to the airways.

Remember to also look after yourself during this time!

If the condition worsens or does not improve, consult your lead healthcare professional without delay.