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

Coughs, colds and flu: What to say and do if you fall sick in Spain
Photo: halfpoint/Depositphotos
Winter in Spain brings all sorts of wonderful things, cocidos and skiing to name but a few. But it also brings various winter lurgies.

Here's the vocab you need to deal with colds and flu in Spain and the procedures you’ll need to follow if you fall victim to them.

It’s the time of year when people start suffering from all sorts of winter malaise. So if you are feeling poorly, here's the Spanish words you need to get help.

Gripe :This word is slightly problematic to English speakers because it is used to describe either end of the scale of the most common winter ailment from a bad cold to a full on nasty dose of the flu.  

So “tengo gripe” can refer to “I have a bad cold” or “I have the flu”.

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Resfriado: you will also here this term referring to “a cold” but it tends to be used to describe “a chill”, say after a day spent out walking in the rain, rather than a full on “cold”.

Constipado: Don’t be fooled by this false friend in Spain, as it describes having a head cold (blocked nose) rather than constipation in the bowel area (which by the way is estreñimientoin Spanish)…

Los síntomas: 

You will need to describe your symptoms, either to a pharmacist if you want over the counter medicine or to the doctor if you require a day off sick.

Fiebre: The presence of a fever probably means you are suffering from the flu rather tan a common cold.

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Tos: A cough. If you have one of these you will likely need one of the various jarabes (cough syrup) on offer.  There is a wide range of jarabes antitusivos, mucolíticos and expectorantes available over the counter depending on whether you are suffering from una tos seca (dry cough) or are bringing up flema (phlegm).

You may also want “pastillas para chupar” throat lozenges or cough drops to help ease the symptoms.

Dolores musculares / mialgiasA bout of the flu often brings muscle aches or joint pains and possibly even dolor de cabeza / cefalea. These words describe a headache, which often accompanies the flu, and can be treated with pastillas (pills) such as aspirina, ibuprofeno or naproxeno.

Estornudos: Sneezing in Spain is met with the refrain “Jesús!” or “Salud!” in place of “Bless you!” and is often accompanied by secreción nasal (a runny nose) otherwise known as moco (snot).


Dolor de garganta. A sore throat often accompanies colds and flu or could be caused by inflamación de las amígdalas (inflammation of the tonsils) which may require antibióticos, available only with una receta médica (doctor’s prescription).


Your first point of call should always be the Pharmacy where you will find a huge selection of medicines available over the counter. Pharmacists in Spain do recieve extensive medical training so are able to provide consultations and advice on a range of minor illnesses.

Calling in Sick

If you are too sick to go into work then you may be required to go to a doctor to get a “baja” – a signed sick note – which must be provided to the employer within three days of the first day of sickness, delivered either in person, by a colleague or via email.

If it’s a short-term illness (such as the flu) then this may be accompanied by an “alta” (fit for work document) so as not to require a repeat visit to be given the all clear a few days later.

If a sickness last beyond seven days then a repeat visit to the doctor and a repeat baja must be signed.

You must be back at work the day after the alta is signed which must be presented at work within 24hours. 




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