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The Swedish words you need to learn ahead of flu season

Catherine Edwards
Catherine Edwards - [email protected]
The Swedish words you need to learn ahead of flu season
Person med förkylning ligger på soffa med mediciner och läkemedel bredvid sig. Foto: Isabell Höjman / TT / kod 11711

Getting ill in a new or unfamiliar country is always an upsetting experience, but if you can't escape the pesky bugs that crop up around this time of year, you can at least use it as a Swedish-learning opportunity.


In Swedish, the words for autumn (höst) and cough (hosta) are strikingly similar. Coincidence? Well, yes, but the fact remains that a lot of people start to get sick around this time of year, and for non-Swedish speakers calling a doctor can be daunting.

Here are nine more useful words and phrases that can help you navigate sickness season.

Förkyld | [suffering from a] Cold

There are usually several viruses doing the rounds, but if you've got a mild illness that mainly affects your nose and throat, this is the appropriate term. A difference from English is that Swedes use the verb "to be" rather than "to have" when talking about a cold.

If you want to get more specific, a few pieces of vocabulary that could help describe your symptoms are rethosta/torrhosta (a dry cough), slemhosta (a phlegm-filled cough), huvudvärk (headache), dålig aptit (a poor appetite).

But make sure you know the difference between en förkylning (a cold) and flunsan/influensa (flu, the former term being more colloquial), which is more serious and likely to include additional symptoms such as hög feber (high fever), ont i musklerna (muscle pain), and extreme trötthet (fatigue). If this applies to you, the way to tell a doctor or employer is jag har influensa (I've got the flu).


Jag tror att jag är förkyld. Jag har ont i halsen och hostar mycket.

I think I've got a cold. I've got a sore throat and am coughing a lot.


En pappersnäsduk | A tissue

A very useful word if you're at the snörvlig (sniffly) stage of a cold. It literally translates as "paper nose towel", but is often shortened to "en näsduk".


Kan du ge mig en näsduk fort?

Can you get me a tissue, fast?

Vinterkräksjuka | Winter vomiting virus

The other major illness you're likely to hear a lot about is this one, caused by calciviruses. Sufferers usually experience illamående (nausea), diarré (diarrhoea), and ont i magen (stomach pain). Like a cold or flu, it usually doesn't last longer than a few days, but can be miserable when you're affected by it.


Mellan 300 000 och en miljon drabbas varje år av vinterkräksjukan

Between 300,000 and a million people suffer from winter vomiting virus every year


Vårdcentral | Doctors' surgery

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may want to see a healthcare professional. You can be seen at any vårdcentral of your choosing (so could ring several if you need a same-day appointment), and if you have a personal number, coordination number, or EHIC card from another EU country, you're eligible to the same treatment as Swedish citizens.

If you don't feel like you need to see a doctor, an alternative is to order something from the apotek (pharmacy), or get a friend to go and pick something up for you – it is not a good idea to visit the apotek yourself if you have symptoms. And most supermarkets will be able to offer you a small selection of medicines (including throat lozenges and Ibuprofen, but not paracetamol tablets) without a prescription (receptfria läkemedel).

And if you don't feel confident describing your symptoms in Swedish, be aware that you have the right to an interpreter when accessing Swedish healthcare – just let the doctor's office know in advance. But if you're choosing to see the chance to practise Swedish as a silver lining to the cloud of cold, it could be useful to describe your symptoms in Swedish.


Jag skulle vilja beställa tid på vårdcentralen

I would like to book an appointment at the doctors' surgery


Högkostnadsskydd | High cost protection

For those who are eligible for the same treatment as Swedish citizens, it's important to know how payment for healthcare works. In most cases you do need to pay (usually around 250-350 kronor per visit, with higher prices for specialist doctors) but there is a cap on how much you pay in one year, meaning that once you reach that amount, further healthcare is free for the rest of the one-year period.

At this point, you benefit from a frikort (a "free card") which will either be applied automatically to your account, or you apply yourself using healthcare receipts, depending on where in the country you live.


Du har nått gränsen för högkostnadsskyddet 

You have reached the limit for high cost protection

Ett läkemedel | A medicine

Medicines to treat the flu might include nasal sprays (nässpray), throat lozenges (sugtabletter) or painkillers (värktabletter), to name a few.

If you get a prescription (ett recept) from your doctor, this will usually be linked to your personal number, so that instead of handing over a piece of paper to the pharmacist they can simply look up your prescription. Some pharmacy brands also offer home delivery, which is particularly useful if you just can't face getting out of bed.


Nu kan du hämta ut läkemedel på ett apotek

Now you can collect your medicine at a pharmacy

Smittspridning | Contagion

A lot of the illnesses that are common during winter are highly contagious, and children starting new school terms and commuters using public transport may be particularly affected. Because of the risk of spreading illnesses further, children are usually expected to be kept out of school or daycare for a full 48 hours after the last symptoms of a stomach bug – even in non-pandemic times.


Det finns ingen risk för smittspridning

There's no risk of contagion

Att återhämta sig | To recover

Just as important as taking the right preventative measures and medicines is allowing you and your body to recover once the sickness or virus has passed. This word is also a noun: en återhämtning (recovery).


Du behöver återhämta dig

You need to recover

Krya på dig | Get well soon

And finally, a useful phrase to use at the office or when picking up the children from daycare, as the chances are that someone else will be feeling poorly too. You can change the subject to refer to different people, so hoppas han/hon kryar på sig is "I hope he/she gets well soon", and krya på er uses the plural form of "you", so is a handy phrase if someone tells you their whole family is under the weather.


Hela familjen är sjuk! Åh nej, krya på er

The whole family is sick! Oh no, get well soon


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