Tackling the farmacia in Italy can be a challenge when you’re visiting, because besides the fact that probably most or all of the brand names of the OTC drugs are different than your brand names from back home, another hurdle is that even the OTC meds are kept behind the counter. That means that if your pharmacist doesn’t speak a word of English, it can be a challenge to get what you need. ù
I remember an embarrassing scene I had 10 years ago when I had first arrived in Italy. I desperately needed Band-Aids because I had a major shaving blunder on both ankles and the bleeding wouldn’t stop. I walk into the pharmacy and there’s a gaggle of old ladies discussing their health issues in frenetic Italian with the pharmacist. I was in little homey San Lorenzo and there wasn’t another tourist in sight. When I came in it was like Moses parting the waters. Everyone turned to look and there I was, in the spotlight. Geez. Of course Bandaids weren’t easily on display, or in supermarkets like they are now, so I had to start in my super broken Italian. First I try explaining that I got a cut. Puzzled looks, all around. Now the old ladies are really into it. I’m sure they were thinking in their heads whatever the elderly Italian lady version of WTF is. Anyhow, after a lot of hemming and hawing (yes, I actually hawed, more than once), the pharmacist looks at me and literally a light bulb goes off over his head. I swear, I saw it. And he goes:
“OOOOHHHHH!!! You mean you wanta Band-aida?”
Uh, yeah. Guess I could have saved myself some time. It was this big procedure, taking the box of bandaids out of their special drawer behind the counter, carefully wrapping them up in tissue paper, carefully scotch-taping the whole confection shut. Gee whiz man, you would have thought I was buying an elaborate gift.
So, let me spare you the drama and therapy-inducing experience described above. Here, I give you, my top 10 OTC drug equivalents in Italian pharmacies.
1) Ibuprofen (Advil) = Moment. Sold in boxes of 200mg caplets. You don’t have to specify the dosage because 200mg is the standard. Then there are Moment’s brothers and sisters: Moment Act (400 mg), Momendol (220 mg) which I think they market for backaches and menstrual cramps, and the pink Moment which you can ask for “bustine” if you prefer a powder that dissolves in water.
2) Acetaminophen/Paracetamol (Tylenol/Panadol/Calpol) = Efferalgan (eff-air-AHLL-gahn) or Tachipirina (tahky-pier-EE-nah) Efferalgan is a tablet that dissolves in water and you drink it. Tachipirina is a caplet, or, for babies, you can get suppositories, called “supposte.” (soo-POH-stay)
3) Antihistamine (Pseudoephedrine) = Reactine (ray-AK-teen)
There’s also Fexofenadine (Allegra) = Telfast and Cetirizine (Zyrtec) which also goes by Zyrtec in Italy.
4) Heartburn/nausea medicine. Italians don’t really say “heartburn” they say “bruciore di stomaco” (stomach burn). They use the Alka Seltzer equivalent (Sodium bicarbonate and citric acid) called Citrosodina which is a powder that dissolves in water, or you can have a chewable (masticabile = mah-stee-CAH-bee-lay). There’s also a product in grocery stores that’s basically the equivalent of baking soda, but it becomes a fizzy drink like Alka Seltzer, called Brioschi (bree-OH-skee).
There’s also Maalox, and there’s something that lots of Italians have told me they swear by, called Geffer, which I’ve never heard of in the States, called Reglan (active ingredient metoclopramide). Trust me, if you feel nauseous and have to puke, Geffer will get it done.
5) Diarrea medicine (loperamide). Easy, it’s called Immodium here too.
6) Cough syrup. Dextromethorphan (Robitussin DM) = Bisolvon.
8) Condoms are called preservativi. They are often also sold in machines outside of pharmacies. And often now condoms are on display on the counter so you don’t have to ask for them.
9) Sleeping aids. Melatonin = melatonina. Valerian = valeriana. The equivalent of the famous Tylenol PM would be “Aliserin” but it requires a prescription here.
10) Vomiting and rehydrating solution. This is particularly important if you are traveling with a child who gets ill. It’s awful having to wonder what the heck the locals might call “Pedialyte.” Here in Italy they sell little juice boxes in the pharmacies of a liquid called “Dicodral” and that’s the equivalent of Pedialyte, and it’s orange flavored. And my children’s pharmacist always tells me to give the kiddos “Biochetasi” for nausea and “Tiorfix” for diarrea, both are OTC medicines. For adults to stop vomiting there’s a syrup called Plasil.
Hope you don’t need any of these, but if you do, hope this list helps!
If you find yourself with a medicine in Italy and you don’t know what the brand name equivalent is, you can look it up here: