03/16/2015 04:00 EDT | Updated 03/17/2015 09:59 EDT

What Is Croup And How Do You Treat It?

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A young boy (18 months) with a nasty cough, coughing with his mouth open and tongue poking out

A barking cough inspires dread in parents of young kids — and sometimes also leads to emergency room visits. As far as childhood illnesses go, croup is fairly common but still unpleasant. How do you know when it’s serious, and what can you do to help your kid feel better while the condition runs its course?

Croup is a respiratory infection that is common at this time of the year, during cold and flu season. And since it’s cause by a virus, it spreads the same way as influenza and the common cold. Its most obvious symptom is a barking cough that often gets worse at night.

Because croup is a condition that young children get, and one that affects breathing, it can be quite scary for both parents and kids. Most of the time croup isn’t serious and your child will feel better in a few days, but because it’s occasionally serious, it’s important to know what to look out for and when to seek medical attention.

Here are 11 things you should know about croup, from what causes it, to how to treat it — and when it’s serious.

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