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Coughs, colds and flu: What to say and do if you fall sick in Italy

The Local Italy
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Coughs, colds and flu: What to say and do if you fall sick in Italy
What should you say and do if you get sick in Italy? Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

If you're feeling under the weather, here are the Italian words you'll need and some tips on what to do.


Un raffreddore - A common cold, likely to be accompanied by il naso che cola (a runny nose), or, if you want to use the more scientific term, la rinorrea - or you might have the opposite problem and have a naso chiuso (blocked nose). 

If you want un decongestionante (a decongestant), spray nasale (nasal spray), or pastiglie per la gola (lozenges; literally, throat pills), these are all available over the counter at Italian pharmacies.

READ ALSO: Are there limits on bringing medicines into Italy?

Pharmaceuticals aren't available at supermarkets in Italy unless they have a dedicated medicine counter manned by a pharmacist, so you'll have to make the trip to the farmacia (pharmacy) or parafarmacia - a type of lower-grade pharmacy that is licensed to dispense only basic medications. The pharmacist will likely ask if you have qualche allergia (any allergies).

Always make sure to ask for la versione generica (the generic version) of whatever drug it is you want; Italian pharmacies will usually try to sell you the more expensive branded version as a matter of course, as it will have a higher mark up.

Una tosse - Your cold may also be accompanied by la tosse (a cough). If you have one of these you may need lo sciroppo per la tosse (cough syrup) and for that you will also need to visit a pharmacy.

Italian pharmacists have extensive medical training, and they will often ask you for more detailed information about your ailment to try and decide exactly what kind of medication you should be given.

READ ALSO: Ten phrases to talk about cold and wet weather like a true Italian

You might be asked Che sintomi hai? (What symptoms do you have?), and if your cough is secca (dry), umida/ grassa (wet), or cronica/ persistente (chronic/ persistent).


La febbre - A fever. If you are running a temperature, this is the word you want. Again, your pharmacist can give you over-the-counter medication for this, and will advise you to consult a doctor if they consider it more severe.

If you're running a fever or have a headache, you're likely to be given Tachipirina - the most common brand name for paracetamol in Italy.

This can be bought without prescription from all pharmacies if you need a painkiller or to bring your fever down. It’s so ubiquitous that people generally refer to it simply as ‘Tachipirina’ rather than paracetamol. 

L'influenza - The flu. If you’re struck down with a more serious illness, it’s likely to be l'influenza, the symptoms for which may include la febbre, brividi (chills), dolori (aches and pains), and could lead to tonsillite (tonsillitis), sinusite (sinusitis), or laringite (laryngitis).

If these get particularly bad, you may require a visit to a doctor (medico).

READ ALSO: Five essential facts about Italy’s public healthcare system

If you're in Italy on holiday and have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), you should be able to access Italian medical services free of charge - just show your EHIC whenever you're asked for your tessera sanitaria (Italian health card).

The British embassy in Italy keeps a list of English-speaking doctors in different Italian regions.


If you don't have an EHIC, you will need to reclaim the cost of your doctor's visit from your travel insurance (travel insurance with a minimum coverage of €30,000 for medical costs is required for anyone visiting the Schengen zone) - though you should check your provider's terms to make sure the cost of your doctor's visit will be covered.

In addition to its public health system, Italy also has specifically designed guardie mediche turistiche (tourist medical services) available during the summer. Payment must be made by the patient upfront, whether they have an EHIC or not, but can be reclaimed from a health insurance provider.

READ ALSO: Who can register for national healthcare in Italy?

If you need to see a doctor urgently, Doctors in Italy provides a 24/7 fee-paying service and can assist with hospital transfers should they be needed. While you may have to make a co-payment (called a ticket) to access certain emergency room services, admission to hospital for emergency care is free in Italy.

An Italian doctor can provide you with a ricetta (prescription) for any medicine you require that isn't available over the counter.



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