Many studies have attempted to find out whether steroid treatment is beneficial in children with croup, but the results have been inconclusive. We have done a prospective placebo-controlled study of the effect of prednisolone on two clinical endpoints--the duration of intubation and the need for reintubation. Reasons for exclusion were age under 6 months, congenital airway anomalies, and previous intubation. 70 eligible children were randomly assigned treatment with prednisolone 1 mg/kg (n = 38) or placebo (n = 32) every 12 h given by nasogastric tube until 24 h after extubation. 11 (34%) placebo-treated and only 2 (5%) prednisolone-treated patients required reintubation after accidental or elective extubation (p = 0.004, Fisher's exact test; odds ratio 8.9, 95% confidence interval 1.7-59.3). Survival analysis with log-normal regression showed that the duration of intubation was shorter with steroid therapy (p less than 0.003) and increasing age (p less than 0.02), but was not influenced by endotracheal tube size or abnormality on chest radiograph. The median duration of intubation was 138 (95% CI 118-160) h in children who received placebo and 98 (85-113) h in the prednisolone group. Steroid therapy reduces the duration of intubation and the need for reintubation in children intubated for croup.