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

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected]
Coughs, colds and flu: What to say and do if you fall sick in France
A pharmaceutical assistant passes by a drug shelf in a pharmacy in eastern France (Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP)

It's the season when the horrible bugs strike and have us all spluttering into a tissue, so here's the vocab you need to deal with coughs, colds and flu in France.


It's not pleasant but as the temperatures fall many people will be falling victim to traditional winter illnesses, from a slight cold to a nasty dose of the flu. So if you are feeling poorly, here's the French words you need to get help.

La Covid - Covid is still here, so if you think you may have Covid here's how to go about getting a test in France. Pharmacies also tend to have at-home tests that you can purchase.

Un rhume - A cold. If you have a basic winter cold there are lots of treatments available without prescription in the pharmacy (look out for the ubiquitous green cross). They include Un décongestionnant (a decongestant), Les pastilles pour la gorge (throat lozenges) or un antihistaminique (antihistamine).

Unlike many other countries, over-the-counter medicines can only be sold in pharmacies in France so you won't find these in the supermarket.

READ MORE: The 7 over-the-counter meds Americans might want to bring with them to Europe


Une toux - A cough. If you have one of these you may need some sirop antitussif (cough medicine) and for that you will also need to visit a pharmacy.

Bear in mind that French pharmacists do extensive medical training so are able to provide consultations and advice on a range of minor illnesses.

If you're buying cough medicine you will probably be asked if your cough is sèche (dry) grasse (wet or productive cough) aïgue (severe) or chronique (long-lasting).

Une fièvre - A fever. If your illness is a little more severe and 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.

Doliprane - this is the most common brand-name for Paracetamol in France and can be bought without prescription from all pharmacies if you need a painkiller or something to help a fever. It's so ubiquitous that people generally refer to simply 'Doliprane' rather than paracetamol. 

READ MORE: Urgent care: How to get non-emergency medical treatment in France

La grippe - The flu. Flu season affects thousands of people every year in France and if you're in an at-risk group it's a good idea to get your flu vaccine (full details of how to access it here).

La bronchite - Bronchitis. If you take a turn for the worse your cold or flu could affect les poumons (the lungs) and this will almost certainly require a trip to the doctor.

Un médecin généraliste - a family doctor or GP, one that covers all types of medicine and doesn't specialise. They operate from un cabinet medical - a doctor's office or surgery.

Les symptomes - The symptoms. If you visit the doctor they will probably ask your symptoms and these might include l'enflure or le gonflement (swelling) of les amygdales (the tonsils) toussant (coughing) or difficulté à respirer/à avaler (difficulty breathing/swallowing). If you want to say that something hurts, you say J'ai mal au/a la [insert body part here]". 

Une ordonnance - A prescription. The doctor hands these out then you go to the pharmacy to collect the medicine.

One very important question you might be asked is Etes-vous allergique à un médicament en particulier? - Are you allergic to any medications?


If you are resident in France you will already be registered with a doctor, but if you are visiting you can attend any doctor without having to register. You pay the doctor for a consultation, usually €25, and then the cost is reimbursed via your carte vitale if you are a resident or via your travel insurance or health insurance if you are a visitor.

The same applies for prescriptions where you pay the pharmacist when you collect it, and the money is reimbursed if you are covered.

A couple of helpful apps - Doctissimo helps you look up symptoms and Doctolib helps you find doctors near you (and lists the language they speak, so helpful for people whose French is not quite up to a doctor's visit).

And for more vocab covering all aspects of the French health system, click here.

READ ALSO The essential smartphone apps you need for living in France


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