To determine whether a single dose of dexamethasone (0.6 mg/kg) is useful in the treatment of acute laryngotracheitis (croup), 29 hospitalized patients with acute laryngotracheitis were randomly assigned in a double-blind fashion to receive either parenterally administered dexamethasone (n = 16) or a saline placebo (n = 13). Severity of the illness was assessed by a clinical croup score based on retractions, stridor, air entry, cyanosis, and level of consciousness. Twelve hours from the time of injection, the patients receiving the dexamethasone had a statistically significant decline in median croup score from 4.5 to 1.0 (p less than 0.001), whereas the patients receiving the placebo did not. By 24 hours, a decline of two or more points in the total croup score was noted in 85% of the patients in the dexamethasone group compared with 33% of the patients in the placebo group (p = 0.027). During this same period, only 19% of patients receiving dexamethasone required two or more racemic epinephrine treatments in comparison with 62% of patients who received the placebo (p less than 0.05). There was no statistical difference between the two groups in improvement in oxygen saturation, respiratory rates, or duration of hospitalization. We conclude that dexamethasone is beneficial in reducing the overall severity of moderate to severe acute laryngotracheitis during the first 24 hours after injection.