What is a Croup Tent Illustration

Croup Tent: A Comprehensive Overview (2024)

by | Updated: Apr 30, 2024

Breathing devices like masks might not be easily accepted or tolerated by infants and young children. Therefore, enclosures known as croup tents are utilized to administer mild aerosol treatments to these young patients.

A croup tent is a medical device designed to deliver a higher concentration of oxygen to children. This bendable piece of clear plastic is held over a child’s bed or crib by a frame and tucked under the mattress.

The tent allows the child to move around freely without the need for an oxygen mask. This article will delve into the purpose, usage, and safety precautions associated with croup tents.

What is Croup?

Croup is a common childhood condition that affects the trachea, bronchi, and larynx. It’s typically characterized by a distinctive, barking cough and may also cause a harsh, grating sound when your child breathes in, known as stridor.

Croup is usually caused by a viral infection, most often a parainfluenza virus. The symptoms of croup can be similar to those of asthma and certain other conditions, so it’s important to see a healthcare provider if your child develops a barking cough or stridor.

What is a Croup Tent?

A croup tent, also known as an oxygen tent, is a flexible piece of clear plastic that is held over a child’s bed or crib by a frame. The plastic is tucked under the mattress, and oxygen or regular air is blown into the tent.

Infant inside a croup tent illustration

The term “croup tent” is often used because this type of oxygen tent is frequently used to treat severe cases of croup in children.

Croup is an infection of the vocal cords, voice box, windpipe, and bronchi (upper airways of the lungs) that causes these tissues to swell and narrow, making it harder for air to enter and leave the lungs.

The tent allows the child to move around on the bed without having to wear an oxygen mask. It can also be used to deliver humidified air or oxygen, which means that moisture has been added to the oxygen or regular air being blown into the tent.

This humidity helps prevent the loss of water from the child’s body as they breathe and can also make the child’s phlegm thinner.

Note: While croup tents are not used as frequently as they once were, they can still be an effective treatment for severe breathing problems in children.

Problems with Croup Tents

There are two primary issues associated with all body enclosures: the accumulation of carbon dioxide (CO2) and the retention of heat. By ensuring sufficiently high rates of gas flow, the buildup of CO2 can be minimized.

This continuous circulation of fresh gas through the enclosure aids in the removal of CO2 while also maintaining the desired oxygen levels.

Regarding heat retention, it can be managed by employing high fresh gas flows to inhibit heat accumulation, or by using a distinct cooling mechanism, like a basic ice compartment, to lower the temperature of the aerosol.

How to Make a Croup Tent at Home

Creating a croup tent at home can be a simple process, but it’s important to remember that it’s not a substitute for proper medical attention. If your child has a severe case of croup, you should seek medical attention immediately.

Here’s a basic guide on how you could create a croup tent at home:

  1. Select a comfortable, safe area: Usually, this would be over a child’s crib, bed or playpen. It should be somewhere where the child feels secure and comfortable.
  2. Create the “tent”: You can use a large sheet, blanket, or lightweight cloth to create the tent. Drape it over the crib or play area to create an enclosed space. It should be secure enough that it won’t fall or get pulled down by the child. You can use clothespins or similar items to secure the sheet.
  3. Add humidity: The purpose of the croup tent is to create a warm, humid environment. You could do this by placing a cool-mist humidifier nearby or inside the tent, making sure the child can’t reach or knock it over. Do NOT use hot water or a hot-steam humidifier due to the risk of burns.
  4. Monitor the child: It’s important to stay with your child while they’re in the tent to ensure their safety and comfort.

Again, this is a basic guide, and you should always seek medical attention if you’re concerned about your child’s health.

Current medical advice for croup often includes using a cool-mist humidifier in the child’s room or taking the child into a steamy bathroom, rather than creating a tent.

Some doctors also suggest that a few minutes of exposure to cool outdoor air can help soothe the child’s airways.

Remember: Severe cases of croup can cause significant breathing difficulties and should be treated as medical emergencies.

What is a Mist Tent?

Mist tents were used for more than 40 years mainly to treat croup and thus were called croup tents. The cool aerosol provided through these enclosures promotes vasoconstriction, decreases edema, and reduces airway obstruction. 

FAQs About Croup Tents

What are Other Names for a Croup Tent?

A croup tent is also commonly referred to as an oxygen tent. In some contexts, it might also be called a mist tent or an Ohio tent.

What is Laryngotracheobronchitis?

Laryngotracheobronchitis, more commonly known as croup, is an infection that causes inflammation and swelling of the larynx (voice box), trachea (windpipe), and bronchi (the large airways of the lungs).

This condition is most common in children and can lead to difficulty breathing and a characteristic “barking” cough.

Do They Still Use Croup Tents?

While not as commonly used as in the past, croup tents, or oxygen tents, are still utilized in some cases to treat severe breathing problems, such as croup in children.

The decision to use a croup tent is typically made by healthcare professionals based on the specific needs of the child.

How Long is Croup Contagious?

Croup is most contagious during the first few days of symptoms, but it can continue to be contagious for up to a week or even longer in some cases.

It’s generally recommended to keep children with croup at home from school or daycare until their fever has been gone for at least 24 hours, and they’re feeling well enough to participate in normal activities. Always consult with a healthcare provider for personalized advice.

Why Does a Child Need an Oxygen Tent?

A child may need an oxygen tent if they are experiencing severe breathing difficulties, such as those caused by croup or other respiratory conditions.

The oxygen tent increases the concentration of oxygen in the air around the child, which can help them breathe more easily. The tent also allows the child to move around on their bed without having to wear an oxygen mask.

How Long Does Croup Last?

Croup typically lasts for 3 to 7 days. The first few nights are usually the worst, and then symptoms gradually improve.

However, the duration can vary from child to child. If symptoms persist beyond this timeframe, or if they worsen, it’s important to seek medical attention.

What is the Difference Between a Croup Tent and an Oxygen Hood?

A croup tent and an oxygen hood both serve the purpose of delivering increased concentrations of oxygen to a patient. The main difference lies in their design and use.

A croup tent is a large piece of clear plastic that covers a child’s entire bed or crib, allowing them to move freely within the tent. An oxygen hood, on the other hand, is a small plastic dome that covers only the child’s head.

The hood is typically used for infants or very young children who are lying down or sitting in a crib.

What Does a Croup Tent Do?

A croup tent provides an environment with increased oxygen concentration for a child who is experiencing difficulty breathing due to conditions like croup.

The tent can also deliver humidified air, which can help to soothe the child’s airways and make their phlegm thinner. This can make it easier for the child to breathe and help to alleviate their symptoms.

Final Thoughts

A croup tent is an indispensable tool in providing relief for infants and young children who are dealing with respiratory issues. This enclosure allows for the delivery of mild aerosol therapies, circumventing the need for more invasive and less tolerated treatments like masks.

However, its use comes with certain challenges, including the potential buildup of carbon dioxide and heat retention. These issues can be effectively managed with high flow rates of fresh gas and appropriate cooling methods.

Overall, when used correctly, a croup tent offers a practical, child-friendly approach to respiratory care that significantly eases the treatment process for both young patients and healthcare providers.

John Landry, BS, RRT

Written by:

John Landry, BS, RRT

John Landry is a registered respiratory therapist from Memphis, TN, and has a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. He enjoys using evidence-based research to help others breathe easier and live a healthier life.


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