Italian Pharmacies 101

Italian pharmacies
Visiting a pharmacy in Italy is quite a different experience

Easily identified by a flashing illuminated green cross outside, Italian pharmacies are completely different from American ones.

I’ll start with prescriptions: no option of having the doctor call it in for you, no automatic refills, no calling in your refill, no dropping off a prescription and coming back 30 minutes later. You get your “ricetta” from the doctor, hand it to pharmacist, who unfolds it, reads it and then sometimes says your prescription out loud to confirm it with you before retrieving it. Now, pharmacies in Milan more or less follow the rules and ask you for your tessera sanitaria or codice fiscale to keep track of your prescriptions. In Rome, they never asked for anything. You could go to six different pharmacies in the same day and pick up six of that same prescription. (It’s true, I did this to stock up on one of mine before moving to Milan.)

Now for OTC medication, it’s by no means an autonomous, browse-the-aisle-and-choose-your-own remedy kind of experience. In fact, Italian pharmacies don’t usually have aisles. You can browse baby stuff, foot treatments, certain toiletries and (during the summer) sunscreen displayed on wall shelves, but you generally won’t find proper aisles stocked with Advil, Tylenol, Aleve, Mucinex, Pepto Bismal, etc., that you can just grab and bring to the register. In Italy, you either have to ask the pharmacist for what you need, or you describe your symptoms and they’ll tell you what you need. I honestly haven’t found anything quite as effective as Advil Cold and Sinus for the common cold and I always stock up on it when I’m in the U.S. This year, I sadly used up all of mine during my Feburary-March-April eight week cold and cough, so when I succumbed to a colpo d’aria this fall, I needed to visit the pharmacy.

Now, in an effort to save you some of the discomfort I’ve experienced at Italian pharmacies, I thought I’d make a list of OTC medicines for anyone who knows what will fit the bill, but wants to avoid going back and forth with the pharmacist. Because many of the suppliers of pharmaceutical and medical products, such as Impact Health (, work globally, you will find pretty similar medicines and products in most countries. However, there will be some brand and names differences, so I thought this might be useful. Big thanks to my colleague Federica for her assistance with this matter! Hopefully, you’ll find it’s just what the doctor ordered. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist making a bad joke!)

  • For a fever, it’s Tachipirina or Aspirina. There are actually two different parties concerning this topic: for instance, I’ve never taken Aspirina in my whole life, but only Tachipirina; also tachipirina contains paracetamol which some people are allergic to.
  • Flu: If you also have fever, again Tachipirina or Aspirina, if it’s just a sense of fatigue with headache, Tachifludec or Vicks Vaporub if the problem regards the breathing apparatus
  • Stomach ache/nausea: For nausea Citrosodina and Digestivo Antonettol; Maloox for the acidity, and Buscopan for cramps
  • Headache: Moment Molli, Ketodol
  • Runny nose: Vicks Sinex
  • Sore throat: Froben or Tantum Verde spray, or Borocillina which are more like candies
  • Cough: Ainecod, Lisomucil
  • Toothache: Aulin, Oki
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