What's causing that cough? Vital health Many of us nurse a nasty bark as winter ends, but to beat it you must find out what's causing it..
"The majority of viral coughs are safe to treat at home," explained Professor Ron Eccles, director of the Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University.
"But you may need your GP's help to shift it if it develops into a secondary chest infection."
Some persistent coughs aren't even viral at all. Professor Stephen Spiro, medical adviser with the British Lung Foundation, explained: "Prolonged coughs can be a sign of anything from asthma and heartburn to more serious lung diseases."
Read our guide to 10 common cough causes and their treatments...Post-viral cough Symptoms: An irritating cough following a cold.
Causes: It's triggered by mucus draining down the back of the throat, causing an inflammation.
Treat it: Some 90 per cent of cases aren't bacterial, so antibiotics won't help. Prof Eccles advises using an over-the-counter syrup to loosen phlegm, or even just a hot drink...Asthma Symptoms: A chronic dry cough, worse at night, and sometimes with wheezing and shortness of breath. Causes: It's often the first sign of asthma, especially in children. It's also a sign that asthma is worsening or not being well controlled. Treat it: Your GP will prescribe a blue reliever inhaler, which releases medication to open the airways. In more severe cases, a brown preventer inhaler is prescribed, which contains a steroid to help reduce airway inflammation...Heartburn Symptoms: A throat cough following a meal, or waking you at night with a nasty acid taste.
Causes: Heartburn, or acid reflux, occurs when stomach acid flows back up the oesophagus, irritating the throat and triggering a cough. Treat it: If it's occasional, a simple over-the-counter anti-reflux treatment, such as Zantac, will reduce the production of stomach acid.
..Chest infection Symptoms: A hacking cough with greenish phlegm, plus a fever. Causes: It's generally caused by the same viruses that cause colds, but inflammation is lower in the lungs. Treat it: Drink plenty of fluids and take paracetamol to reduce a fever...Whooping cough Symptoms: Uncontrollable coughing fits that produce a whoop sound. Causes: This spreads when an infected person coughs and another person inhales the bacteria.
Treat it: Drink plenty of fluids and take ibuprofen for a sore throat...Medication cough Symptoms: A dry, niggling cough, which is often worse at night.
Causes: ACE inhibitors, a drug used to control high blood pressure, can cause a chronic cough in a fifth of patients. Treat it: If your cough coincided with starting medication, talk to your GP...Tuberculosis Symptoms: A persistent cough, often with extreme tiredness, weight loss, night sweats and coughing up blood.
Causes: An infectious illness. Current TB rates are the highest for 40 years. Treat it: Treatment involves six months of strong antibiotics that cures 99 per cent of cases.
..Smokers' cough Symptoms: If the cough becomes more frequent or you cough up blood, get it checked out immediately. Causes: Smoking irritates the airways causing a cough, which in the longterm can be a sign of COPD - chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Treat it: Giving up will lessen or cure a smokers' cough in 94 per cent of people within four weeks.
..Lung cancer Symptoms: A new cough lasting longer than three weeks, coughing up blood or unexplained breathlessness. Causes: Smoking accounts for 90 per cent of cases of lung cancer. Treat it: A combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, depending on the stage of the cancer...Heart problems Symptoms: Persistent coughing or wheezing, plus extreme tiredness. Causes: When you suffer heart failure, fluid can build up in the lungs and cause a lingering cough.
Treat it: See your GP immediately. Treatments include ACE inhibitors to prevent fluid build-up and beta-blockers to slow the heart rate.
'Prolonged coughs can be a sign of asthma, heartburn or more serious lung diseases'