Causes of a Dry Cough in an Infant

A dry cough is one that does not produce any sputum, or mucus. It can be painful and forceful. Treating this type of cough in an infant depends on the underlying cause. Antibiotics may be prescribed for bacterial infections. Home treatment options include vaporizing chest rubs or the use of a humidifier. Caregivers should consult a medical professional before administering any type of medication to an infant, including over-the-counter baby medicines.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.

Common Cold

The common cold is a viral infection that affects the respiratory system, explains the University of Maryland Medical Center 1. At the beginning of the cold an infant may have a tickle or slight irritation in the throat that causes her to cough. As the cold progresses, the cough may become wet with mucus. Several days later when the cold begins to clear up, the infant may have a dry cough again as the mucus drainage slows. Because colds are caused by a virus, home treatment to make the infant comfortable is the most effective remedy.

The Flu

The influenza virus causes symptoms similar to a cold but an infant may feel and appear much worse. Much like the cold, the flu can start out with a dry, hoarse cough reports the University of Maryland Medical Center 1. Over time, the infant may start producing phlegm with the cough as the flu begins to improve.

Environmental Irritants

An infant can be rather sensitive to environmental irritants such as cigarette smoke, overly hot and dry air or strong chemical odors. These type of environmental agents can cause a dry, itchy throat and a cough to match, explains the National Institutes of Health 2. Treatment consists of keeping the infant away from such irritants. Dry, hot air is common in the winter months and can be combated by running a cool mist humidifier in the infant's room during sleep times.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, can affect infants. This condition occurs when the stomach acids and contents make their way back up the infant's esophagus causing a burning sensation, frequent spit up or even vomiting, explains the National Institutes of Health 2. The acid can irritate the throat, making an infant have a persistent dry cough with no other symptoms of illness. Several prescription and over-the-counter medications can help alleviate this problem in infants, but should only be used under the advice of a medical professional.


Pertussis, commonly called whooping cough, is a highly contagious bacterial infection of the respiratory cough. Infants who contract this infection will have a violent cough that is followed by a "whoop" sound as he tries to breathe in, explains the University of Maryland Medical Center 1. The cough with pertussis is often dry, almost a choking type cough in an infant. Other signs of the illness include coughing so hard that the infant has eye tearing, become bluish and the protrusion of the tongue.