How to avoid Liver-ache, getting hit by the air, and other Sicilian Diseases

Sicily has all kinds of medical conditions that don’t exist anywhere else. Here’s a comprehensive list, just in case you get one of them on holiday. Your doctor at home will know nothing about them.

liver ache
Ugh, I’ve got a liver-ache

1. Cervicale, caused by getting hit by the air (colpo d’aria)

The dreaded cervicale is a pain in the neck, and head, caused by getting hit by the air (colpo d’aria). It is the exclusive preserve of middle-aged ladies, who suffer terribly if anyone opens a car window or sets the air-con too strong.

If left untreated (you usually need painful injections) it goes on for days and prevents you phoning any of your friends.

After ten years in Sicily I get cervicale myself so, whilst you may think the following ailments are imaginary, beware! You just may find out TOO LATE that they’re all real.

2. Getting a chill on your kidneys (freddo ai reni)

In Italy this can be a medical emergency. Another term for this is kidney-ache (mal di reni). My hubby sometimes gets this painful, rather masculine ailment from riding his motorbike in winter or realising I have pulled all the covers off him during the night.

It is treated with a reassuring phone chat with the doctor or, in persistent cases, an appointment with a masseur.

go on without me

3. A Mole on internal organs

A mole on internal organs, called a neo in Italian, is revealed unexpectedly by an ultrasound for something else entirely. It causes lifelong problems, once people know it is there. The only way to avoid this suffering is to never have a scan.

4. Hands in Cold Water Syndrome (mani in acqua fredda)

A serious complication of the common cold, this is experienced by Sicilian housewives who spend many hours a day scouring pots and scrubbing underpants by hand. The water activates the common cold virus into a more virulent form, which results in a voice so hoarse you can hardly speak when answering the phone, though this symptom is alleviated immediately if it’s someone you really want to talk to.

My mother-in-law is terribly vulnerable to this complaint.

It can only be cured by your husband doing all the housework for several days, whilst you convalesce by watching Latin American soap operas with names like “Valeriana, woman of a thousand tears” whose heroine pole-dances in a bustier to pay the ramson for her brother who has been kidnapped by bandits. She weeps heart-rendingly in every episode so have your tissues handy, as weeping along with her is great for draining your sinuses. By the time her oily-chested fiance, Xerxes, has had both his big toes cut off by the bandits so he will never be able to wear flip-flop sandals again, you’ll feel fully well enough to resume your regular sock-washing duties.

sick of cooking

5. Getting hit by coldness (Colpo di freddo)

Getting hit by coldness (colpo di freddo) leads to a non-viral cold. Symptoms are identical to those of the common cold virus, except the sufferer just “knows” they don’t have a virus.

They got ill by going outside without a warm enough jacket; walking around without slippers on; not drying their hair properly; or being sweaty and removing the garment making them hot – once you sweat, you must keep your fleece on even if it’s 30 degrees centigrade.

Since it’s not contagious, they can cough and sneeze all over you, your baby and your immuno-compromised granny. It is remarkable how many of these people end up coincidentally getting hit by coldness themselves, and developing the same illness, shortly afterwards.


6. Lip blisters or vesciche

Don’t make the mistake of thinking this complaint is anything to do with the herpes virus, or that sufferers should not kiss your baby with their scabby mouths! Vesciche may look identical to cold sores but they’re not contagious at all.

It’s a pity almost everyone in Sicily suffers from them. Why they are so common remains an unexplained medical mystery.

7. Cambio di stagione or “change of season”

Imagine my horror when the school psychologist diagnosed this in my son!

Symptoms include tirednes, laziness, not wanting to go to school, being fed up of everything, and really, really wanting it to be warm enough to go to the beach. It always clears up when summer begins.


8. Liver-ache (mal di fegato)

Nobody knows the cause of this, but it is sometimes attributed to eating too much tomato, fried food or various vegetables which the eater doesn’t really like. The most commonly prescribed medical treatment for this is to refuse to eat any food item unless it is white (mangiare in bianco) till your friends are so fed up they stop inviting you to their houses.

9. Lazy Intestine (intestino pigro)

This is such a widespread condition throughout Italy that you could consider it Italy’s official national disease. It’s nothing do to with eating pasta every single day of your life. Absolutely not.

I am sure you’ll be astonished to learn Sicilians never, ever get…..

10. Hangovers

There isn’t even a word for hangover in Italian and Sicilians never feel ill as a result of drinking alcohol. They do often have a headache and feel sick the day after a big party, but it’s because they ate something which gave them liver-ache, then got hit by the air on their way home, and ended up with a chill on their kidneys.

wine flu

So there you have it: a special Italian Appendix (pardon the double entendre!) which should be added to your medical practitioner’s handbook.

67 thoughts on “How to avoid Liver-ache, getting hit by the air, and other Sicilian Diseases

  1. Hilarious – unless of course you want to get a nice “through draught” when the temperature hits 39 degrees and you are in the kitchen cooking yet another three course meal in the height of the midday heat!! And my Sicilian in laws ALWAYS know better than me.!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wish I had never heard of getting smacked by the air, now I know about it, it has become the bane of my life!!! I can hardly leave the house without the air smacking me from all directions!!! I’ve become more delicate than the most fragile Sicilian grandmother!!!


    1. Oh do please share the remedies!!!
      My Dad always used to tell me eating a tomato could cure stomach ache and I was about 28 years old when I suddenly realised the nature of this particular remedy fitted the category of “placebo” !!!!
      And I so with it had never dawned on me, because tomatoes don’t cure my tummy aches any more! 😦


  2. Cervicale is very prevalent in Devon too. I will always refer to it as that now. Everyone else refers to me having a pain in the neck when someone else is driving. I think they mean being not having!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great! Wonderful! The picture with the ice bear … 🙂 What is interesting is, that many of these folkloristic illnesses have to do with coldness.

    This reminds me to the alleged fact that on Sicily the temperature can drop quickly from one moment to the other caused by chilly northern winds. You remember, I asked you once whether you made the experience, too. Mary Taylor Simeti in her book clearly reports the effect. Maybe there is more to it than I thought? Maybe some of these illnesses are due to climatical specialties of the island?

    It reminds me on my home are at the Lake of Constance north to the Alps: There we often have “Föhn” weather (warm dry southern winds), resulting in headache and — according to St. Thomas Aquinas — in fathering more girls than boys in “Föhn” times.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Apparently there were lots and lots of these things in Elizabethan England based on cold air, smelly air and especially – breathing outdoors night air, which was usually deadly. Maybe no coincidence that it was at night the street cleaners shovelled up all teh poop from the streets so the air probably really was full of airborne germs.

      And you’re righ that we get sudden changes of temperature in Sicily, though my subjective impression is that it’s no worse than England really.

      I had never heard the Fohn brings more girls than boys, We do have the Scirocco here, which makes people get either very high or veryu low blood pressure if they are prone to these problems. I have no idea how that works, but it is very real, the hospitals are always crowded and the death rate always goes up whent the Scirocco blows on particularly hot days. So some things which sound quite invented at first really do have scientific truth.


  4. Ha ha, love it! In Germany people seem to fall prey to a miscellaneous ailment called Darmverschluss, whereby some part of your intestine gets blocked. It seems to happen to Germans regularly as far as i can tell, and strikes the fear of God into them, but I have never heard of anyone getting it in Britain or Italy. Must be regional or caused by too many sausages and beer perhaps?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have to make a confession: As a German I really once went to hospital with this “Darmverschluss” idea in my mind 🙂 Of course not a real one, as I was told, a real one would be a serious and very painful desease. Reason was rather a badly diagnosed nutrition intolerance. A real one, I assume 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    2. I am pretty sure I had that darmverschluss thing when I was in Germany, I bet you remember it too??? My intestine was blocked for days. Definitely too many sausages and kartoffeln!
      I wonder if there’s a country with none of these odd illnesses – I need to live there so I can be perfectly healthy!!!


      1. Sausages are really really bad. You can mix in *everything* without the eater noticing it … I repeat: *Everything*! So always look on the contents list. The same is valid for Turkish Döner. It is not only meat … there’s more … and it is for free *evil-grin*

        Liked by 1 person

  5. These are hilarious! Now I have something new to tease my Sicilian boyfriend about. I’ve heard that not drying your hair properly after a shower could lead to all kinds of life-threatening conditions in Sicily😃 Is it really common that people are scared to leave their hair towel dry? I did not get an answer from my boyfriend (probably because I was laughing my arse off when asking) yet it would explain his obsessive hair-drying ritual even when it’s +30c outside.

    I’m glad I bumped into your blog! You definitely got a new follower!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Glad you like the blog!

      Yes, going around with towel-dried hair will lead to certain death, as will walking around without shoes or slippers on your feet. So much so, that when my son plays with friends and gets a sweaty brow, the other mothers insist on blasting him dry with the hairdryer before letting him risk walking ten steps from their door to my car, even on a blazing sunny day!!!
      And my husband spends about ten minutes drying his hair after every shower, even though he has lost half of it and the rest is not more than 6 millimetres long!!!

      Since you have a Sicilian boyfriend you should probably make sure you never do any of these, by the way – it could be disastrous:

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m so happy I stumbled upon your blog. My Sicilian gram always used to wrap my neck up with rags when the air got it. She would rub some balm all over my neck and then cover with a homemade scarf of rags. Miss those times and to this day I’m very aware of the cold and my neck :).


    1. Ah, so maybe Sicilians get “cervicale” because they always have their necks wrapped up from an early age, making them grow up delicate? That would explain why I get cervicale, because of my mania for collecting fancy silk scarves!! 😉
      I’m glad you enjoy my blog! 😀


  7. Oh splendid. I am glad Indians aren’t the only ones with diseases entirely specific to their race. Or I should narrow that down to the Bengalis. As for example, you must make sure that you don’t, under any circumstances ever, eat cucumber at night as it will cool you down too much and you will catch a cold. And the mere idea of drinking orange juice after having had anything with dairy ensures a sour stomach and ensuing stomach ailment. Let’s see, oh don’t eat rice when you have a fever as it will make it worse. Ironically many of these admonishments were given to me by an aunt who teaches science at a girl’s high school.

    Any good Bengali knows that you must NEVER raise your heart rate for any reason. If you do exercise you must do so without raising your heart rate. And if you have high blood pressure and attempt to exercise you WILL DIE! When my FIL found out that I wanted to bike together with my husband (who has some high bp) he screamed at me and became altogether apoplectic with rage that I was trying to murder his son. Sigh. What does he think happens when we uh….. cuddle?

    I could go on and on. Just happy to see medical idiosyncrasies aren’t uncommon or relegated to only one little corner of the world.

    BTW, are Sicilians as good in terms of medical knowledge and advice as the average Bengali?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha ha I love these!! Since my son always feels too hot at night I had better give him cucumber every evening! 😉

      I think the Sicilians and Bengalis definitely have the same level of detailed medical knowledge…. though I wondering how the Bengalis who live in Palermo cope? The whole world must feel like such a minefield to them, it’s a wonder they ever do anything!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. MarlisB- Lmao! Here in America one can never get enough exercise. I just remember when my father’s doctor gave him a stress test (strapped him to a treadmill and turned up the speed by varying degrees in order to get my old man’s heart rate to go up). My Dad said to his doc at one point, “I thought your job is to keep me alive. Not kill me.”
    As an aside, my mother’s mother is originally from Shanghai, China, and my Mom’s biggest thing was skin cancer. When we were kids and once the weather started warming up, she’d slather my sister and I with SPF. To the point where we felt like we were chickens she was buttering for the oven.
    As a result, to this day, neither my sister or I ever go suntanning. Because, don’t you know, we might get skin cancer. Or, worse, premature wrinkles.
    I dunno know how it is in the rest of the world, but here in America aging is treated like it’s an endemic illness that we all must rage war upon.
    Interestingly, there really is a medical condition that pre- disposes people tp sensitivity to cold or feelings of numbness in certain circumstances called Raynaud’s Syndrome (also listed as Raynaud’s Phenomenon). I know this because I was diagnosed with it when I was in my early twenties by my doctor.


    1. Ha ha! I live the story about your father on the treadmill!
      That sunscreen obsession has hit England too, it’s ludicrous. The schools have made rules that children are not allowed out at play time unless they are smothered in SPF cream, even the black kids! As a result, there are epidemics of rickets and other vitamin D deficiency diseases in England now – no kidding.
      I had Reynaud’s syndrome to when I was a kid, but not any more. I think either I was misdiagnosed, or else I have grown out of it by accumulating a nice, insulating layer of blubber.


  9. As a Sicilian living in London I completely see this now! Somehow, I got cured of all of these diseases once I arrived here. But I do get hangovers now.


      1. If you try liver-ache on your English boss, promise to tell me how he reacts!!!!

        I can’t decide what’s worse between a cervicale or a hangover – though at least with a hangover you get a great night before-hand, so I think I’d prefer that. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Not sure if you’ve heard of ‘soul’s-mouth ache’ (vucca lamma, literally the mouth of the soul, the diaphragm) many Sicilian women complain of that when they have English indigestion…

        Liked by 1 person

      1. The “change of season” malady is the only one I know the name for and is, blandly, “spring tiredness syndrome”. I have been suffering from this ever since I learned about it.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. I so enjoy your blog!

    I’m a Sicilian American married to another Sicilian American. My mom has warned me forever about getting cold kidneys, and heaven forbid I forget to put a t-shirt on the children.

    We used to have “liver ache” as well. Normally it was the day after Thanksgiving that our family would all suffer from this malady. But my mom’s remedy was different. Bitter greens were her way to cure liver ache. Escarole or chicory boiled for a bit and tossed with some olive oil(which by the way cures kidney ache). These were very good for liver detox. But never artichokes, which are also not good for pregnant ladies.

    My Sicilian Zia cured kidney ache with a spoonful of olive oil.

    My Nonna cured tummy aches with a tummy rub and a prayer asking a Saint I don’t recall to free us from the “worm” that must be causing the tummy ache.

    Also children can get worms by getting frightened or by laughing too much. Sicilian children, I guess were very fragile emotionally.


    1. I’ll have to try bitter greens on my Hubby next time he gets kidney ache!!! And following on from cervicale, I think I’ve started suffering from liver-ache myself, too, so it’s good to know that remedy which sounds more enjoyable than eating in white!!!! I am not surprised you all got liver ache after eating American food for Thanksgiving. It’s well known in Sicily that all foreign food is dangerous and best avoided. 😉

      Ah, yes, the worms! I am becoming rather expert in this. I nearly got run over some years ago, and was so freaked out I dropped in on a friend to let off a bit of steam, who diagnosed me with worms immediately. She happened to know the prayer for worms, making the sign of the cross on my tummy in olive oil while saying a prayer. I swear it worked! I felt so calm afterwards that I have to admit I have gone back to her several times for the worm prayer when feeling really stressed out. It works every time! 🙂


  11. Ah so true! All my family down in Palermo are hypochondriac! Hair drying is an obsession (but here in Milan none the less!). Such a pity you left Sicily, Veronica, I discovered your blog too late! So hilarious and you got our character way better than we Sicilians do!

    Liked by 1 person

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