How to Talk About Illness in English

Being sick is not something that anyone looks forward to. It's never nice to feel ill and lose days or weeks of time to hiding under your bedcovers.

However, knowing how to talk about it will make it easier to express why you’re not looking well.

You might even get some sympathy, in the form of chicken soup!

Read on for some vocabulary that will help you learn how to talk about illness in English.

How to Explain Your Illness

to feel under the weather : to feel sick. This usually means a mild illness, but not one that would make you visit a hospital.

“I feel a bit under the weather.”

a cold / coming down with a cold: to feel the symptoms of a mild illness in your nose or chest. You wouldn’t use “a cold” to describe a stomach illness.

“I think I’m coming down with a cold.”

a bug / a bug going around: a bug is the term for an illness, or the germs that cause an illness.

“There must be a bug going around. Everyone at work is sick!”

a splitting headache: a very strong pain in the head

“Do you have any pain killers? I’ve got a splitting headache.”

contagious: easily passed from one person to another, usually used to describe illness

“Don’t get too close! My cold is contagious.”

the flu: an illness caused by a virus. In the US, the “flu” is limited to illness caused by the influenza virus. In the UK, “the flu” can be used to describe any sort of nose/chest illness.

“I feel terrible today! My body aches and I can’t stop sneezing. I must have the flu.”

stomach flu: a contagious stomach illness that is not caused by food poisoning.

"It's always embarrassing to tell people you have a stomach flu!"

How to Make a Doctor’s Appointment

When you’re feeling unwell and you think you need to see a doctor – don’t worry! There is some easy vocabulary you can use to make that phone call easier.

“Hello, I’m calling to make an appointment to see the doctor.”

to make an appointment: to set up a time to see a doctor or another person

The secretary or receptionist at the doctor’s office might ask “what’s wrong?” or…

“What are your symptoms?” (pronounced simp-tum)

symptom: the change in your body or mind that indicates a disease or illness is present

You would answer with a list of the things that have been bothering you, and you might say…

“I’ve had a runny nose and a strong cough for three days, and today I have a fever.”

After your doctor’s visit, you might get a prescription for some medication.

prescription: a piece of paper with the medicine you’ll need to get
to fill a prescription: to receive the medicine that was recommended by a doctor

In order to get your prescription filled, you would go to a pharmacy. You might ask your doctor where the nearest pharmacy is.

pharmacy / drug store (US) / chemist (UK): the place where you go to pick up your medicine

Once you’ve mastered this vocabulary, knowing how to talk about illness in English should be easy! One more thing you might want to say to friends who are feeling “under the weather”…

Hope you feel better soon! 

Share this with your friends