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We mark the change in seasons with food and flowers. And for a good portion of us, with sniffles and sneezes, too.

Allergies affect as many as 30% of adults and 40% of children, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. If you have seasonal allergies, then the byproducts of the spring's blooms—pollen, grasses and molds—can wreak havoc on your health and well-being.

Of course, so can a nasty spring virus. Even though the days are longer and warmer, cold and flu season can last through the end of May.

So how do you tell the difference? The clues are in your symptoms. And you may be surprised to know how many ways your health benefits can help you get on the path back to health.

1. Check your nose

We know it's gross, but what's coming out of your nose can tell you a lot. Thin, watery mucus usually is a tell-tale sign of an early cold or seasonal allergies. If the mucus becomes thick, yellow or green, you most likely have a virus. If coupled with a pain around the nose and forehead, you might have a sinus infection.

Rinsing your nasal passages is a quick, inexpensive way to relieve nasal congestion, says Dr. Mark Hiatt, executive medical director for Regence BlueCross BlueShield health plans. Look for a squeeze bottle of saline solution or use a neti pot—a small container with a spout, often sold in pharmacies or health food stores.

If you are unsure what's making your nose run, you can get help quickly at an in-network urgent care clinic. Find one near you when you sign into your Member dashboard and use the Find a doctor tool.

2. Are you itchy or achy?

Are your eyes watery and red? Is your throat scratchy? Do you have an annoying tickle in your ear you just can't reach?

All that itch is often caused by allergies, Hiatt says. An oral antihistamine could help.

While allergies can cause a lot of discomfort, they don't leave you with achy muscles and joints. If that's what you are experiencing, you have a cold, according to Hiatt.

To relieve nasal symptoms due to allergies or a cold, try an oral decongestant. Decongestants also come in nasal sprays. Hiatt says to be sure to only use them for a few days in a row, or they can actually make your symptoms worse.

With a doctor's prescription, you can use health savings account (HSA) or flexible savings account (FSA) funds to pay for even over-the-counter medicine. Learn more about HSAs here.

3. How long have you felt ill?

A virus usually starts gradually. You develop fatigue, sniffles and mild aches that get worse in a few days. Colds typically run their course within two weeks. Sometimes they last only a few days.

Allergies can come on suddenly; as soon as you're exposed to something you are allergic to, you develop symptoms—and they last as long as the allergen sticks around.

Colds are contagious. Allergies aren't.

If you're still unsure what's bothering you and are worried you are exposing others to a contagious virus, ask your doctor's office if telehealth appointments are an option. Telehealth appointments provide the same care you'd get from a doctor's office visit, instead conveniently over the phone or via video chat.

You can learn more about how to use telehealth here.

4. What time of year is it?

Cold and flu season runs from about September to May. However, if you seem to have symptoms around the same time every year, they are likely caused by allergies.

Check your local TV, newspaper or the Internet for current pollen levels, Hiatt says. If your symptoms are likely due to seasonal allergies, here are few tips for reducing your exposure to triggers:

  • Stay indoors on dry, windy days. The best time to go outside is after the rain.
  • See if you can have someone else mow your lawn and do yard work. Or wear a pollen mask if you do outside chores.
  • Remove clothes you've worn outside and shower to rinse pollen from your skin and hair.
  • Don't hang laundry outside. Pollen can stick to sheets and towels.

Consider purchasing bed and pillow covers to protect from dust mites, or a HEPA air filter for your house. You may be eligible for Advantages discounts on a variety of products that provide allergy relief through your Regence health plan. Check now.