Describe Illnesses

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Even the healthiest person needs to visit the doctor sometimes. Here is some language you can use to describe common illnesses.

a bad ~

If you have a bad part of your body, it means it hurts.

I’ve got a bad back. It’s because of my job.’

I’ve got bad eyes from staring at screens too much.

a ~ ache

An ache (/eik/) is an almost constant pain. These are possible aches in English:

  • backache (uncountable),
  • earache (uncountable),
  • a headache (countable),
  • a stomachache (countable), and
  • a toothache (countable and uncountable).

I’ve got terrible earache from walking in the cold yesterday.

‘Heartache’ is not a medical condition, it’s a romantic problem.


If you have a medical condition with ‘~itis’ in its name, it means that part of your body is swollen (grown larger, and usually painful). Some common examples are:

  • onjunctivitis – swelling of the bits at the side of your eyes;
  • rhinitis – swelling of your nose. Usually you get an itchy runny nose, too;
  • sinusitis – swelling of your sinuses, between your nose and eyes; and
  • tonsilitis – swelling of your tonsils, the two round bits at the back of your throat.

I think I’ve got conjunctivitis. My eyes are watering all the time.

Other problems

    A fever: a high temperature.
    A chill: a low temperature.
    A runny nose: liquid running from your nose.
    A rash: little spots on your skin.


The different types of medication (sometimes called ‘meds’ by North American speakers) you can take are:

  • pills – little things you swallow
  • powder – looks like flour or sugar and you swallow it
  • syrup – a liquid you swallow
  • cream/ointment – medicine you rub on your body, usually just the part that has the problem
  • suppositories – like pills but you put them up your bottom

The piece of paper the doctor gives you so that you can get your medication is called a prescription.

I’ve given you a two-week prescription for a steroid cream so your rash gets better. Please come back in two weeks.