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GERMAN LANGUAGE

Colds and flu: What to do and say if you get sick in Germany

It’s that time of year again when many of us will be coughing and blowing our noses. If you're feeling a bit under the weather, here are the German words you'll need and some tips on what to do.

Medicines and a fever thermometer lie on a bedside table.
Medicines and a fever thermometer lie on a bedside table. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Maurizio Gambarini

Corona – In German, Covid is most commonly called Corona. Self-isolation and quarantine (Quarantänepflicht) rules currently vary from state to state, but if you test positive for Covid, you’ll generally have to isolate for a minimum of five days and a maximum of 10. 

READ ALSO: Germany to bring in new Covid rules ahead of ‘difficult’ winter

Eine Erkältung – this is the German term for a common cold. You can tell people “I have a cold” by saying either saying: ich habe eine Erkältung or ich bin erkältet.

A cold usually involves eine laufende Nase – a runny nose – so make sure you have a good supply of Taschentücher (pocket tissues) at home.

If you have a verstopfte Nase (blocked nose) you can buy a simple nasal spray (Nasenspray) from your local drugstore. 

But in Germany, because only pharmacies are able to sell medicines, you will need to pay a visit to die Apotheke if you want to get anything stronger.

READ ALSO: Why are medicines in Germany only available in pharmacies?

At the pharmacy, the pharmacist will usually need you to describe your symptoms, by asking you: Welche Symptome haben Sie?

A woman with a cold visits a pharmacy.

A woman with a cold visits a pharmacy. Photo: pa/obs/BPI | Shutterstock / Nestor Rizhniak

If it’s a cold you’re suffering from, you may have Halsschmerzen or Halsweh (sore throat), Kopfschmerzen (headache) or Husten (cough).

For a sore throat, you might be given Halstabletten or Halsbonbon (throat lozenges).

If you’re buying cough medicine you will probably be asked if you have a dry, chesty cough – Reizhusten – or if it is a produktiver Husten (wet, productive cough).

If you have one of these you may need some Hustensaft or Hustensirup (cough medicine). If you have a headache, you may also want to pick up a packet of Ibuprofen.

While selecting your Medikamente (medication), the pharmacist might ask you a couple of questions, such as:

Sind Sie mit diesen Medikamenten vertraut?

Are you familiar with this medication?

Haben Sie irgendwelche Unverträglichkeiten?

Do you have any intolerances?

They will also tell you about any Nebenwirkungen (side effects) the medicine could have.

Die Grippe – if you’ve struck down with a more serious illness, it’s likely to be die Grippe – the flu.

Flu symptoms usually include Fieber (fever), Schüttelfrost (chills), Gliederschmerzen (muscle aches), Schmerzen (aches) and Appetitlosigkeit (loss of appetite). While both Erkältungen and Grippe are very ansteckend (contagious), flu is usually more debilitating and might require a visit to the doctor.

However, as the pandemic is still with us, many German doctors’ surgeries (Arztpraxen) still ask patients to stay away or come in during special hours if they have cold or flu symptoms. 

But if you need a sick note (eine AU-Bescheinigung) and are suffering from mild respiratory diseases, you can get this over the phone, until at least November 30th, 2022.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

If you are really unwell, however, you will need to go to the doctor at some point to get ein Rezept – a prescription. More serious cold and flu-related illnesses (Krankheiten) often involve Entzündungen (inflammations), which are often schmerzhaft (painful) and cause Rötung (redness).

Common inflammations include Nebenhöhlenentzündung (sinusitis), Bronchitis (bronchitis) and Mandelentzündung (tonsillitis).

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HEALTH

The vocab you need for a trip to the dentist in Germany

Going to the dentist can be daunting at the best of times and being unsure of the language can make things ten times worse. We’ve put together a guide of the German words and phrases you need to help take some of the pain away.

The vocab you need for a trip to the dentist in Germany

When you arrive at the dentist, you’ll usually be asked if you’re gesetzlich or privat versichert (if you have state or private health insurance) and asked to present your health insurance card. However, for most procedures, you will still have to pay something extra on top. 

The most common reason for a trip to the dentist (Zahnarzt) is having eine Vorsorgeuntersuchung (check-up) or a cleaning appointment (eine Zahnreinigung or eine Prophylaxe) which most dentists recommend having twice a year.

Most health insurers won’t reimburse the full cost of teeth cleaning – so make sure you check beforehand with your Krankenkasse which costs are covered.

In a cleaning appointment, the dentist will remove plaque (der Zahnbelag) and check the health of your teeth (die Zähne) and gums (das Zahnfleisch). If they tell you that they see Karies (tooth decay) then you may be told to come back for another appointment to get a filling (eine Zahnfüllung or eine Plombe).

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor’s appointment in Germany

They will certainly remind you at the end of the appointment to use Zahnseide (dental floss) on a daily basis (täglich) and also recommend that you use Interdentalbürsten (interdental brushes) for cleaning in between the teeth.

In the chair

When you actually get into the hot seat, you will be usually asked to do certain things by your dentist or dental assistant (Zahntechniker) so they can do what they need to do.

The first thing you’ll usually be asked to do is ausspülen bitte – to rinse your mouth with mouthwash (die Mundspülung) usually in a plastic cup in a little sink next to the dental chair. They might ask you to keep the liquid in your mouth for a certain number of seconds until they tell you to ausspucken (spit it out).

A woman undergoes a dental examination. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Markus Scholz

When you’re lying down, you’ll inevitably be told Mund öffnen bitte or aufmachen bitte (open your mouth) and likewise, you might be asked to zumachen (close) your mouth at some point. Other typical instructions in the dentist’s chair are: Mundlocker lassen (relax your mouth), Kopf zu mir drehen (turn your head towards me) and Kinn nach oben (chin upwards).

Types of dental issues

There are numerous complaints that could compel you to pay a visit to the dentist, but one of the most common is having a filling (eine Zahnfüllung) or having a crown (eine Zahnkrone).Your health insurance will cover the cost of the most basic kind of material for filling up a cavity, but you will be presented with a price list (or if you aren’t – ask) for the different types of materials for crowns or fillings.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How dental care works in Germany

Another common complaint is having to have a tooth removed (eine Zahnextraction) – a particularly common procedure for a wisdom tooth (der Weisheitszahn). A more serious extraction procedure is a root canal treatment (eine Wuzelkanalbehandlung).

If you have this kind of procedure, you will normally be offered a local anaesthetic (örtliche Betäubung or Lokalanästhesie) and you may also need an X-Ray (ein Röntgen).

More useful phrases and vocabulary

Braces – (die) Zahnspangen

Sensitive teeth – empfindliche

ZähneTooth pain – (der) Zahnschmerz

Dentures – (die) ProtheseI have toothache when I chew/drink – Ich habe Zahnschmerzen beim kauen/trinken

I have light/strong pain on this tooth – Ich habe leichte/starke Schmerzen an diesem Zahn

My gums are inflamed – Ich habe eine Entzündung am Zahnfleisch

I am nervous about the treatment – Ich habe Angst vor der Behandlung

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