If you are one of the millions of people who suffer pollen and allergies, you don’t need a calendar to tell you it’s spring. Sometimes called hay fever, the spring can bring on allergies and different cold symptoms.

How do you know the difference? What’s happening and what can you do?  

“While hay fever alone may not be life threatening, it can be uncomfortable” says 
Dr. Arveen Bhasin , a Mayo Clinic allergy and immunology expert.

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Allergies can feel like a cold but there are some big differences and sometimes allergies can become more serious and turn into sinusitis which must be treated with antibiotics.

She offers these tips for relief from spring pollen and allergies and tells you when it’s time to see an allergist.

Flying pollen in front of a nose – allergy or hay fever. (Credit: Getty Images)

“If you’re prone towards allergies, you develop an antibody called IGE to that particular allergen. When you’re exposed to that allergen, it causes the release of histamine and these other mediators,” says Dr. Bhasin.

And that is when spring’s unfurling can feel downright bad. The first step is to control your exposures, says Dr. Bhasin.

Some of those environmental control measures include keeping windows at home, in the car and at work closed.

(Getty Images)

“If it’s a dry and windy day, the pollen is blowing. You want to run the air conditioning because, that way, you’re recirculating the clean air,” she says.

For regular allergy sufferers, start your medication a couple weeks before the season starts.

“First line treatment is what we call oral antihistamines that help with some of the itching, running, sneezing. And the nasal spray is really helping to focus on some of the congestion and the runny nose,” Dr. Bhasin says.

Saline solutions using distilled water are also helpful.

And if these tips don’t help? Dr. Bhasin says that is the time to make an appointment.

“The best time to engage an allergist is really when you’ve tried all the environmental control measures that you can, and you’ve tried over-the-counter medications, but you’re still symptomatic,” says Dr. Bhasin.

Using saline solutions or a neti pot 

a neti pot, canister of salt and small wooden spoon

“Saline irrigation solutions can be purchased ready-made or as kits to add to water. You can also use a homemade solution. Look for a squeeze bottle or a neti pot — a small container with a spout designed for nose rinsing — at your pharmacy or health food store.

To make up the saline irrigation solution, do not use tap water, as it can contain organisms that could cause infection. Use water that’s distilled or sterile. You can also use water that was boiled and cooled. Another option is using water that has been filtered using a filter with an absolute pore size of 1 micron or smaller.,” said Dr. Bhasin.

To prevent infections, wash the bottle or pot with hot soapy water and rinse it after every use and leave it open to air-dry. Do not share a container with other people.