The omicron variant is causing young children to develop croup

Posted at 12:02 PM, Jan 12, 2022

A new symptom of COVID-19 is showing up in kids under age 5 who have been infected with the omicron variant.

Doctors say cases of croup are on the rise.

"What we're seeing with omicron is the virus is settling in the upper respiratory tract more...causing cold-like symptoms and, anecdotally, more croup associated with it," said Dr. James Antoon, a pediatrician at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt.

Antoon says there has been an increase in croup cases among young children because it takes less inflammation to clog their small airways.

Croup is most common in kids aged 6 months to 3 years old. It creates a cough that sounds like barking or a seal. Children can also have a hard time breathing.

Antoon says parents with children who have mild symptoms of COVID-related croup should focus on keeping them away from others at home and making sure they're washing their hands. He says parents will also want to call a doctor if they're having difficulty breathing.

Antoon added that his niece had to go to the emergency room with COVID croup last week.

"The treatment is you get a breathing treatment that's different than the treatment for asthma, that works very quickly for the noisy breathing and barkly cough, and then a short course of steroids — either a long-acting steroid or three days of short-acting steroids," he said. "Outcomes are exceptional for this."

Antoon says parents should find comfort that pediatricians are very good at managing croup. The treatment is the same, regardless of whether it's COVID-related or caused by another virus.

That's good news for what's next for COVID-19.

"It does seem that this is becoming what we call endemic, or will be seasonal at some point once it settles out," Antoon said. "When it does, it will be likely that that croup will be one of the typical manifestations that we would see in a child."

In addition to presenting with croup, the omicron variant is causing fewer changes in taste and smell in kids and making asthma worse.

Antoon says it's too early to know if omicron infections will cause more cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C.

For now, Antoon's advice is for parents to vaccinate kids if they're old enough. Antoon also says to make sure everyone around kids too young to get the shots are vaccinated.