10 OTC pharmacy/medicine equivalents in Italy

18 Feb

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. ΓΉ

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.

7) Sore throat. Lozenges = Benegol Spray or gargle = Tantum Verde

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:

International Drug Name Database


25 Responses to “10 OTC pharmacy/medicine equivalents in Italy”

  1. Eleonora February 18, 2012 at 3:41 pm #

    Wow! That’s good research!
    I would like to have an italy-netherlands translation now, please.
    I’m going to need it… sooner or later!

  2. Un'americana a Roma February 18, 2012 at 3:47 pm #

    YOU have to be the Un’italiana ad Amsterdam or, rather I should say: Italiaanse vrouw naar Amsterdam

  3. Sara Rosso February 18, 2012 at 4:36 pm #

    Just a note about the heartburn medicine – Alka Seltzer actually contains aspirin as well as the effervescent action – Brioschi does not (I’m a big fan). πŸ™‚ So you can take as much as you need πŸ™‚

  4. Gail Brown February 18, 2012 at 9:41 pm #

    Thanks for this great post, Shelley! It’s been e-mailed to my iPhone so it will be at the ready if I need it during my upcoming Roma/Sicilia trip. This is extremely helpful info along with my compilation of “Tipping in Italy” advice from Sara Rosso, Cherrye Moore, Katie Parla and Walks of Italy.

  5. Olga February 19, 2012 at 7:16 pm #

    Thank you for the posts like this! Making our trip to Italt safer πŸ™‚

  6. Francesca Maggi February 21, 2012 at 3:26 pm #

    What an excellent post.

    I personally use TRIAMINIC (also in the states) effervescente which will take away all flu & cold symptoms – just like at back home.

    Another word for the wise: The pharmacists will often suggest another “like” brand. Sometimes you can save money, but, if you’re really brand loyal, insist on your own.

    According to people in the know, they’re being ‘persuaded’ to sell more of that brand than the competitor’s…

  7. firenzemom February 23, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

    So you can add to your list. They have many Ibuprofen (‘ibuprofene) now called buscofen, nurfen, Algofen so compare prices. And Xamamina is dramamine for motion sickness they come in children form also. MediNait is Vicks NyQuil

  8. firenzemom February 23, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

    Reblogged this on Firenze Moms 4 Moms Network Expat Group.

  9. Michconnors February 23, 2012 at 7:44 pm #

    Thanks, this is such a great list! Going the opposite way, I found Brioschi at my local CVS in Brookline, Mass.

  10. Un'americana a Roma February 23, 2012 at 8:28 pm #

    Thanks so much! Great additions! I hadn’t thought of the travel sickness. There’s also a thing called “Travel Gum” (travel goom) that you chew for motion sickness.

  11. Donna February 24, 2012 at 6:39 pm #

    Thanks for sharing, just shared with my fellow American that they do actually have Ibuprofen in Italy. Funny story about ‘preservativi’ First summer here (2006) taking my son & his new Italian friends (two girls, one other boy) to the beach. Ask my son, in my half-broken Italian if he used ‘protezione’, meaning sun screen . Here in Puglia, it has a whole new meaning–needless to say, he was mortified but his friends loved it–laughed alot!

  12. beverly July 5, 2013 at 3:33 am #

    Do you sell Travel Gum 20?

  13. meenaswim August 14, 2013 at 10:10 pm #

    thank you so much for this list! life saver ❀

  14. jean September 15, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

    Checked in here to check on the Tylenol equivalent (Ibuprofen not good for me).Got such a charge out of the Band Aid story, I had to share my own encounter in Florence. Challenged by eating too much cheese, I went to the Farmacia for relief for the opposite of “traveler’s diarrhea.” Had my phrase all ready but, like you, was greeted with a parting of the crowd. Forgot to include “sono”( I have), and just said “constipato” and the pharmacist proceeded to do a great pantomime to demonstrate to the crowd, and to me, that “No, he was not constipated.) After much laughter, and reddening of my face, he was able to recommend some solutions. My consolation was that it occurred rather far from our hotel, so it’s unlikely I will see any of them again.

  15. Daisy Church October 4, 2013 at 7:57 pm #

    Great article! I lived in Florence for 3 months, so I totally get these! I had one question; when we lived in Italy, my husband and I SWORE by Biochetasi as a hangover relief. Seriously, it worked magic. I’m trying to figure out if there’s an American equivalent/ any way to order it here stateside. Suggestions?

  16. Declan April 5, 2014 at 5:01 pm #

    I needed Sudafed. The nearest approximation I could find was Acti Grip. It contains paracetamol (Tylenol) and Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed).

  17. brilliantmindbrokenbody June 19, 2014 at 1:29 am #

    FWIW, you can find Reglan in the ‘states…but it’s prescription. And yes, it’s amazing for nausea, and not bad for migraines.

  18. Kochalita Terrazas Urquidi Pomponi September 22, 2014 at 10:49 pm #

    Thank you so much, this list will help me so much. But I am trying to find what would be equivalent to childrens zyrtec, any idea?

  19. Edoardo BB March 13, 2015 at 3:08 pm #

    Hey! Great post! I’m on the opposite situation since I’m an Italian living in the U.S. and I always struggle to find my medicine here.
    Do you know who it is called “Oki” in the U.S.? And also “Biochetasi”. I always have to bring some with me when I come here because I’m unable to find them here (I live in Boston, MA)

    Thanks πŸ™‚

  20. Amelia Alameno March 29, 2015 at 11:44 pm #

    Reblogged this on Sweaters with Blueberries.

  21. Amelia Alameno March 29, 2015 at 11:45 pm #

    You have no idea how helpful this is.. I’m studying abroad next semester and have been trying to find a list similar to this, and that database! Thank YOU!

  22. Allison April 5, 2015 at 11:43 pm #

    I cannot believe you are trying to find that too! We use OKI and we also have to bring it from italy. it is the best medicine for everything. Today we talked with several friends and we have come to the conclusion that it is probably closest to a drug they no longer sell here – Alka Seltzer Plus Cold Medicine (not to be confused with Alka Seltzer Plus for indigestion). Alka Seltzer plus worked much like OKI in taking away aches and pains, as well as helping colds and flu symptoms. It is no longer sold here in the United States because it has shown to raise the heart level and jeopardize the well-being of heart patients.
    Good luck finding oki here but i think you will not find anything as good!

  23. B July 9, 2015 at 6:53 pm #

    I’m in Italy and suffering from very bad dehydration. I knew I needed pedialyte, but despaired of explaining this to a pharmacist. This list was a lifesaver, so thanks!

  24. Cheryl November 18, 2015 at 11:39 pm #

    I was told about something called Chitrado or Chitrato, not sure of how it is spelled. It is for indigestion & it is also called an Italian Brioschi. Do anyone know anything about this product?

  25. Jackie January 6, 2016 at 1:21 am #

    Is Geffer supposed to make you throw up? My last night in Milan, I experienced a really bad stomach virus (diarrhea/vomiting), and was scheduled to fly home (US) the next morning. Since I didn’t get any better in the morning, I decided to stop by the pharmacy at the Milan airport. The Italian pharmacist told me to take two tablets of Imodium and two packs of Gerrer. 5 minutes after I drank the Gerrer, I throw up all the liquid that I drank that morning. Fortunately, I had a bag with me…. Thank god I survived the 8 hours plane ride without any further complications.

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