Difference between Croup and Whooping Cough

April 19, 2017 by Editorial Team

Croup and whooping cough are medical conditions that mostly affect children. Even though they bear similarities, they are completely different in a number of ways.

Definitions

Croup vs Whooping Cough
Illustration of the body parts affected by croup

Croup is an acute viral or bacterial infection affecting the bronchi, trachea, and larynx that causes obstruction in the upper airway. This leads to labored breathing. As the passageway constricts due to inflammation, coughs forcedly push air out of the narrowed airway. Because of this mechanism, the swollen larynx (voice box) produces a dry, barking sound. Additionally, stridor (a high-pitched whistling sound upon inhalation) is common among patients suffering from croup.

The term “croup” is a descriptive medical term coined from the cough’s sound, which resembles the bark of a seal. Also known as laryngotracheobronchitis, croup may or may not follow a common cold or a cough. It affects young children around 6 months to 6 years old, depending on the size of their upper airway. Although the same bacteria or virus may also affect adults, they don’t experience the symptoms manifested by young children mainly because their passageway is bigger in diameter.

Whooping cough
An illustration of the body parts affected by whooping cough

Whooping cough, on the other hand, is a highly communicable respiratory tract infection. In the early days, it was a well-known childhood condition. However, since the development of vaccines, the morbidity and mortality rates of this disease have significantly dropped. Now, it only affects younger children who have not received a vaccination or teenagers and adults whose immune systems are greatly compromised.

Whooping cough is also known as pertussis, which translates to complete (per) cough (tussis). It is characterized by a hacking cough which is then followed by a high-pitched breathing sound that resembles a “whoop.” Because the airway of adults is bigger and more developed, they do not manifest the same symptoms small children exhibit.

Croup vs Whooping Cough

So what’s the difference between croup and whooping cough? Although these medical conditions both affect younger children, they are far from being the same.

Firstly, croup is also known as laryngotracheobronchitis whereas whooping cough is called pertussis. These two respiratory diseases are caused by different types of infections. While croup is most commonly caused by the parainfluenza virus, bordetella pertussis is the culprit behind whooping cough.

The extent of infection also differs. Basically, both conditions affect the bronchi (bronchial tube) and the larynx (the vocal chords). The only difference is that croup spreads infection in the trachea (windpipe) while whooping cough extends to the lungs.

It is easier to diagnose croup at an early stage. Croup usually follows a common cold. It is characterized by a deep, dry cough that sounds like the bark of a seal. The cough usually worsens at night and is aggravated by crying and anxiety. Also, fever, stridor, labored breathing, and a hoarse voice are common symptoms of croup.

Whooping cough, on the other hand, is difficult to diagnose since its signs and symptoms are similar to common colds for the first 10 days. Usually, it starts with a runny nose, cough, fever, and nasal congestion. As the infection spreads, the symptoms worsen. During the 1st or 2nd week, the patient exhibits extreme fatigue, reddish or bluish discoloration of the face, vomiting, and a hacking cough followed by a distinct whooping sound. More alarmingly, infants may not cough at all. Instead, they may temporarily stop breathing. This condition is called apnea, and it can be lethal if proper medical intervention is not put into place.

Because whooping cough is a life-threatening disease, children are advised to complete their vaccination (DTaP) and pertussis booster shot as a preventive measure. Meanwhile, the progression of croup can be prevented by completing immunizations that will strengthen the immune system.

Lastly, the treatment for whooping cough and croup greatly vary. Patients suffering from whooping cough are usually advised to take prescribed antibiotics while those diagnosed with croup may resort to steam treatment or steroid shots, depending on the severity of the disease.

Comparison Chart

CroupWhooping Cough
Also known as laryngotracheobronchitisAlso known as pertussis
Usually caused by the parainfluenza virusCaused by bordetella pertussis
Affects the larynx, bronchi, and tracheaAffects the larynx, bronchi, and lungs
Easier to diagnose at an early phaseDifficult to diagnose at an early phase
Symptoms: fever, stridor, labored breathing, a hoarse voice, and a dry barking sound that resembles the bark of a sealSymptoms: runny nose, cough, fever, and nasal congestion at the early stage; extreme fatigue, reddish or bluish discoloration of the face, vomiting, and a hacking cough followed by a distinct whooping sound at the later stage
Vaccine: (DTaP) and pertussis booster shotVaccine: there is no specific vaccine for croup, but completing immunizations that strengthen the immune system can help prevent the progression of the disease
Treatment: prescribed antibioticsTreatment: steam treatment or steroid shots