What is a barking cough? A barking cough is a dry, harsh cough that resembles the sound of a barking seal. This type of cough is most often associated with croup (laryngotracheitis). Croup is usually caused by viruses. Bacterial infection may occur secondarily. Parainfluenza virus type 1 is the most common cause of croup; other causes include respiratory syncytial virus and influenza virus. Croup causes swelling and inflammation of the area around your voice box (larynx). In some cases, this swelling can become severe and lead to a blocked airway (airway occlusion). Children are especially vulnerable to developing a blocked airway because of the small size of their airways. A barking cough can have other causes, such as diphtheria, inhaling a foreign object, choking, or infection of the epiglottis (epiglottitis). Your epiglottis is the flap of cartilage that covers your windpipe (trachea) and prevents food from entering the bronchi and lungs. In some cases, a cough with a barking quality may occur with the common cold. In addition, a barking cough is sometimes used to describe the cough that occurs with pertussis (whooping cough). However, a cough associated with this disease is usually described as a having “whooping” sound as the person gasps for air. In children, a barking cough can be a sign of a life-threatening condition, such as a blocked airway. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, your child, or someone you are with, have serious respiratory symptoms, such as an untreated barking cough, abnormal breathing sounds, difficulty breathing, pale or blue lips or skin, drooling, difficulty swallowing, extreme irritability, sore throat, high fever, and shaking chills.