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    Got a cough? Experts say it's the top reason people see a doctor -- more than 30 million visits a year.

    Your first step toward relief is to find out the cause. Then consider your symptoms. With that info, you can choose the best treatment.

    What Causes It?

    A cough is supposed to protect you. It gets out stuff that doesn't belong in your lungs and windpipe, like inhaled dirt or food. Here are the common triggers.

    • Viruses. Colds and the flu are the most common causes. While annoying, coughs that are “productive” get germy mucus out of your lungs when you're sick. Most will go away in a few days. After a cold, though, some "dry" coughs last weeks or months. That could be because coughing irritates your lungs, which leads to more coughing, which irritates your lungs, and so on ...
    • Allergies and asthma. If you have them, inhaling a trigger like mold can cause your lungs to overreact. They're trying to cough out what’s bothering them.
    • Irritants. Even if you're not allergic, things like cold air, cigarette smoke, or strong perfumes, can set off a hacking spell.
    • Acid reflux. When you have heartburn, stomach acids back up into your throat, especially at night. They can irritate your windpipe and make you cough.
    • Other causes. Many other problems -- lung inflammation, sleep apnea, and drug side effects -- can be triggers. Get coughs that won't go away checked out to make sure you don’t have a separate problem.