PLEASE BE AWARE THAT SINCE THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN IN 2007 MORE INFORMATION HAS BECOME AVAILABLE AND IN JUNE 2009 THE FDA ORDERED A RECALL OF BOTH THE SPRAY AND THE SWABS. YOU CAN FIND MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE ZICAM RECALL HERE.
“What do you make of the news stories about Zicam? Does it really cause loss of smell and would you use it?”
Yes, I have seen the (often hysterical-sounding) warnings about Zicam and because this is a product used by members of my own family, I was especially concerned. Here’s what I found out for a 2007 article on this subject:
Yes, Zinc Can Destroy Your Sense of Smell
Like most internet hoaxes, this one has a kernel of truth to it. Certain forms of zinc are used to destroy the sense of smell in laboratory animals used for certain experiments. BUT the form of zinc used in those tests is NOT the same form found in over-the-counter cold remedies like Zicam.
“Don’t let fear-mongers scare you away from Zicam. I looked at all the evidence and believe it’s safe and effective for many people.”
If Zicam, which actually settled a $12 million lawsuit, is linked to anosmia, or loss of smell, it’s almost certainly only the result of using the spray forms of this popular cold remedy. To the best of our knowledge, zinc MUST come into direct contact with the smell receptors located deep in the nasal cavity to destroy the sense of smell—if the form found in Zicam could even do that at all. There have only been a handful of studies (two of which are listed below) and they’ve produced conflicting results.
Regardless of whether Zicam nasal sprays are harmful, there is absolutely no evidence that using Zicam lozenges or swabs is in any way dangerous to your sense of smell or taste.
Is Zicam Safe?
I must admit that when I first heard about the stories linking Zicam to sudden and permanent loss of smell, I was worried. But after looking at all the evidence, I chose to continue purchasing the swab versions of the Zicam remedy and using them as directed.
Jafek, B., et al. (2004). Anosmia after intranasal zinc gluconate use.
Hirt, M., et al. (2000). Zinc nasal gel for the treatment of common cold symptoms: a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.
Slotnick, B., et al. (2007). Olfaction and olfactory epithelium in mice treated with zinc gluconate.