It’s possible to get sick in Italy. Here are some things you need to know about Italian pharmacies and medicines

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Achoo!

It’s common to get sick while on vacation. From the strange air you breathe on your flight, to the many surfaces you touch in train stations, to the lack sleep you get, all of these things can make it easier to catch a cold.

This article is not going to address what to do if your leg breaks in Italy. This article is about the small ailments that many travelers experience and which, if you were at home, you would not bother to see a doctor to treat. These are the things you can deal with at home by simply going to the local drugstore or grocery store to get a few items anonymously.

This is, for most of the time, not how things are done here in Italy.

Good news is that the pharmacy is still your first stop for most of these ailments. Unexpectedly, the pharmacist you deal will seem more like a doctor rather than just a Walgreens cashier.

Italian Pharmacies, Rock Star Pharmacists, & Remedies for Common Ailments

mah Although there aren’t many chain pharmacies in Italy the universal symbol for all of them is the green plus-sign. The green crosses, which are often lit up, sometimes say “farmacia” ( similar to this) and can also display useful information such as the temperature and the date. Kate added that “parafarmacie” is a term for places that sell homeopathic products.

There will be many variables because they are all independent. There is one constant: you will need to wait in line to talk to a pharmacist to get the treatment you require.

It doesn’t matter if you can speak enough Italian to be able to find the exact product you need. However, Italian pharmacists will likely ask you many questions before handing you a package of pills. They aren’t being invasive, but they are trying to find the best solution for your problem. It could be allergies, or a head-cold. Each case is different and the Italian pharmacists are great at finding exactly what you need.

Also, you should be ready to describe your symptoms to the pharmacist, not just ask for medication. Some pantomiming is helpful as not all pharmacists can speak English. This can be embarrassing, especially if you have a urinary tract infection. You might be more comfortable speaking Italian or having someone translate what you are dealing with.

Important to remember that even though you may end up with something that you recognize, the dose in each pill, inhaler shot, or whatever you receive could be different from the one you have at home. Make sure to read the instructions and ask questions if you are unsure.

Here are some Italian equivalents to OTC medicines that you might know. However, don’t be afraid of asking a pharmacist if they have any suggestions.

Aches & Pains

Moment, Nurofen and Brufen are painkillers that contain ibuprofen (like Advil). kee Naprosyn and Momendol are the ones that contain naproxen (like Aleve). In Italian, aspirin is called “aspirina”. You can find others in each category so make sure you confirm the ingredients when you open the box.

These come in pills. Most people know that the term “pillole,” which is what every phrase book says, is the correct word. However, I have found out at the farmacia that the “compresse”, is not coated. Efferalgan can be dissolved in water and drank like Alka-Seltzer.

Topical pain relief is also available in creams and gels. This method of treating pain is more common in Europe than the United States. Depending on the pain, a pharmacist might recommend a topical treatment instead of an oral.

Tummy Problems

Italian digestion-obsessed Italians are well aware of all the available remedies for stomach problems. Because it is mainly sodium bicarbonate, the most common antacid can be found in small tablets on supermarket shelves. OH

Some name remedies you’re likely familiar with at the pharmacy are Immodium and Maalox, and there’s also Citrosodina (pronounced chee|tro|so|DEE|nah), which contains sodium citrate (the same ingredient in Alka-Seltzer). This is dissolved in water and then you can drink it.

Stuffy Nose

The pharmacist will ask if you have allergies or a common cold.

Reactine (which contains cetirizine hydrochloride) and Zyrtec (both contain Telfast, which has fexofenadine like Allegra) are two examples of antihistamines.

Actifed, which contains pseudoephedrine, is a good decongestant. Many pharmacists will push you to try homeopathic remedies. You might even find Oscillococcinum in the mail. Although I don’t know you, I am not interested in homeopathic remedies. There is almost no evidence that Oscillococcinum actually does anything. I decline to request the Actifed. However, you are free to do whatever you want.

Coughing

Your pharmacist will ask you whether your cough is dry or wet. A wet cough is called “catarrh” in Great Britain and much of the former British Empire. However, I have not heard the term used in the United States. There are medications with dextromethorphan (which can be found in Robitussin) that treat a wet or mucous-producing cough. They are called Bronchenolo, Recotuss, Bisolvon and Recotuss.

FLUifort, which contains carbocisteine as a mucolytic, and Libexin Mucolitico, with both prenoxidiazine hibenzate and carbocisteine as a cough suppressant, are two other options. Most cough remedies come in syrup form.

You can use lozenges such as Benegol to soothe sore throats.

Bug Bites

It was the Cinque Terre that I needed to visit a pharmacy in Italy for an illness. After spending a week in France, I was now back in Italy. I was being eaten alive by mosquitos almost every night. I was fortunate to know the Italian word for mosquitos – it had been a long-held favorite of mine, not because it is what it means. So I could walk in and tell the pharmacist, “The mosquitos have eaten me!” I was able to leave with both a repellant for future attacks and a soothing lotion to treat the bites that I had. Both worked flawlessly.

Although I can’t recall what I bought back then, Locoidon is a hydrocortisone cream that you can use if you have itchy bites. Autan has both insect repellants as well as “after-bite” products, which are readily available at supermarkets. You might also find OFF insect repellant. Plug-in insect repellants are also available in many markets.

Locating a Doctor

There are many English-speaking doctors in every major city, so if you have exhausted all your options at the pharmacy, and still need to see a doctor. If you’re staying in a hotel, or an apartment, it means that someone can recommend you – either a concierge service or an attentive apartment owner.

Romeing lists many options for finding English-speaking physicians in Rome. The information on the Italian health system is available at the US Embassy. It also contains links to English-speaking doctors located in cities with an embassy or consular presence.

You can explore medical terminology with greater passion than your phrasebook might permit. The long list of English-to Italian medical terms is a great resource!

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18 Responses to “Getting sick in Italy: What you need to know about Italian pharmacies & medicines”

  • It’s worth noting that parafarmacias, which only offer homeopathic remedies, have red crosses outside pharmacies. If you are looking for vitamins, that’s fine. But if you need medication, you should consider the green-crossed farmacie. ?

  • Jessica, thanks for all the great information. Americans are often invited on my tours to Italy by me and I always advise them to bring their OTC medications from home. I’ve always had to take someone to the farmicia, so I will keep your post in mind as a reference.

    • Jess has the following:

      Patrizia, thanks for your comment! OTC stuff is something I always bring from home. It’s more expensive in Italy than here. But it’s still handy to know how you can re-supply when you run out. Thank you for reading the article!

  • L yaxley states:

    It was very handy, as I had forgotten the allergy medicine that i bought on my way to the airport. I was in dire need of allergy relief as soon as we arrived to Venice. I feel like I can find what i need using the brand names because our hotel is located right next to a pharmacy.

    • Jess has the following:

      Although I am sorry that you are suffering, I am glad that you now have the information to help you. Best wishes for your stay at the farmacia and I wish you a pleasant trip!

  • Dei Harvey:

    I need test strips to use with my son’s insulin meter. I’m looking for “Truetest blood glucose strips” in the USA. Do you have them? If so, how much in Euros or USD?

  • Elizabeth Follin:

    I have to take sudafed/pseudoephedrine (can be offbrand), for me it’s one of the few things that holds off sinus infections. It makes me nervous about traveling with it. However, I know I will not be able travel with it this season as we are going on 2 weeks of full-time travel. Is it easier to have it in my luggage than to buy it once we arrive in Italy?

    • Jess has the following:

      I always take some pseudoephedrine with me on the plane. If I run out, I go to the Italian pharmacy. It’s not as cheap and much less effective than buying it in the US. If you feel more at ease buying them once you get there, that’s okay. You don’t want to add stress to your daily life.

  • carole says:

    It was very interesting reading. My legs were so swollen that I went to the pharmacy.

    My long journey from New Zealand to Rome. I received a treatment which I now understand was the best.

    One homeopathic remedy that was absolutely useless was urine of deer. Good

    A little fun at my NZ doctor’s return visit.

  • Elisabeth says:

    This is a very useful article. My son is visiting Milan for a while. He needs to have another supply of strong antihistamines (he must get a prescription from a doctor in the UK). Is it possible to buy these over-the-counter in Milan without the need for a prescription?

    • Jess has the following:

      Although I do not know if he will need a prescription for this, he should consult a Milan pharmacist.

  • Katie A. says:

    It was very helpful. It’s helpful to have this information before you go on the road and make a fool of yourself. A clarification: Your pharmacist in the States can perform all of the above-mentioned tasks. They are experts in medication and can help you determine when to take you to the doctor or emergency room for medical attention. They’ll gladly make a recommendation if they don’t know what to do.

    • Jessica says:

      It’s great to know that! Since I live in the US, I have never had to seek this kind of assistance from a pharmacist.

      • Lea says:

        Just visited Italy in April. I visited a farmacia located in a small northern city. Montebelluna. They spoke English. I requested tea tree oil to treat a developing cold sore. They were able to provide it. It worked well. As an RN, I appreciate their expertise and knowledge.

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