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How Effective Is Dexamethasone for Croup?

By Lee Johnson
Updated May 17, 2024
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Using dexamethasone for croup is an effective treatment, and is especially useful when the child has trouble breathing. The drug works by decreasing the swelling of the larynx common in breathing difficulties associated with croup. Studies have confirmed that the use of dexamethasone for croup is associated with quicker recovery, less need for additional medical care, and better sleep; the affected child's parents also experience less stress as these symptoms improve. Many cases of croup will clear up without medical intervention, but the use of dexamethasone has very few side effects and hastens recovery. This has lead many doctors to prescribe the drug for even mild cases of croup.

Inflammation of the larynx in children with croup can result in difficulty breathing. Dexamethasone is one of the corticosteroid hormones, which are otherwise called glucocorticoids. These drug treatments are noted for their ability to reduce swelling an inflammation. This action of the drug is the reason that dexamethasone for croup is an effective treatment. By reducing the inflammation of the throat, it opens up the child’s air passage and makes breathing much easier.

Studies have confirmed that dexamethasone for croup is an effective treatment. Research on the effects of the drug is usually compared to a placebo, or sugar pill, to ensure that the recovery is not associated with the placebo effect. Children taking dexamethasone for croup require fewer repeat visits to the doctor than those taking a placebo, and their symptoms clear up more quickly. This is sufficient to show that the treatment is effective, but research has also shown that the drug improves the patient’s sleep. Parents of children taking the drug therefore experience less stress related to their child’s illness.

Most cases of croup only require one or two doses of dexamethasone to help clear up the symptoms. Doctors will administer one dose of dexamethasone for croup personally and then give the child’s parents another dose in case breathing difficulty continues. The inflammation of the larynx usually clears up within six hours of the initial dosage. If the condition continues, the second dose of the drug can be administered by the parent. One or two doses of the drug are unlikely to cause any side effects, but stomach pain, nausea and hiccups are possible.

Mild croup usually does not require any medical intervention. The problem will generally clear up on its own, and can be helped by sitting the child in a room filled with steam. Moderate to severe croup may require some dexamethasone treatment to help it clear up. Some doctors will offer dexamethasone for croup even if the condition is mild. This is because the drug has been shown to be very effective, causes no side effects, and speeds up recovery.

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