Zicam Nasal Gel Vanquishes Colds, Sense Of Taste, Smell

A chewing gum company turned cold remedy manufacturer is under fire for selling a nasal spray that destroys people’s sense of taste and smell. Over 400 lawsuits have been filed against Matrixx Initiatives for the side effects associated with Zicam nasal gel, a zinc-based homeopathic cold remedy. Matrixx has already spent $12 million to settle 340 lawsuits, but some customers won’t be satisfied until the FDA is involved.

Two years ago, Richardson first tried Zicam after his mother, a registered nurse, brought him a package. At the time, Richardson was suffering from a cold and wanted quick relief because he was about to start a new job.

“I squirted it up my nose and felt a burning sensation,” Richardson said.

A few days later, he noticed that scents seemed distorted. Even strong odors, such as gasoline, had a metallic scent. He also claimed he lost his sense of taste as the two senses are linked.

Richardson wants the FDA to require an independent study of Zicam’s safety.

“If I took this product and I was just out $6, that’s one thing,” Richardson said. “This has changed my whole life… Heaven forbid some mother gives it to her 6-year-old kid.”

Rather than settle the remaining lawsuits, Matrixx has started to successfully challenge the expert-status of doctors who claim a link between sensory loss and Zicam. They even hired their own crack team of experts to prove that Zicam is 100% safe, and won’t burn your nasal tissues and cause you to lose all sense of taste.

Zicam raises the larger issue of the FDA’s limited oversight of homeopathic treatments. Unlike conventional medicines, natural remedies are not subject to a rigorous approval process, nor are they put through clinical trials. Both, according to the agency, would cost too much time and money.

Lawsuits claim loss of smell [The Arizona Republic]


Edit Your Comment

  1. The Zicam stories are horrifying. How is this kind of crap allowed to happen?

  2. acambras says:

    I’ve only tried the chewable things, not the nasal gel. I’d had no plans to try the nasal gel, but after this I really don’t want to try it.

    The “strawberry” chewables taste like strawberry flavoring for .002 seconds. Then they have a horrible metal taste for about a minute, then they have a tasteless (yet still gag-inducing) quality. I tried to stick with them for a few days, but I ended up throwing away the rest of the box.

    Even reading this article, I could taste the zinc. Yuck.

  3. Bay State Darren says:

    They’ll probably re-launch it as a weight loss product. For Zicam users, brussel sprouts and tofu now are indistinguishable chocolate and other unhealthy former temptations. (No offense, vegetarians and people who like healthy food.)

  4. Hedgy2136 says:

    I have used Zicam about 4 times over the last year (including for the last 5 days), and have never experienced any of these symptoms. The first time I used it, I did experience nose bleeding. I am not a shill, but Zicam is an absolute miracle for me and I highly recommend it. My wife has been ill for the last 8 days and didn’t use Zicam. When I first noticed symptoms about 5 days ago I immediately bought some, adn despite some “minor” symptoms, I feel great!

  5. ReccaSquirrel says:

    I welcome all of my new anosmic friends! Of course, my anosmia is genetic and therefore I shall shun you and mock you for being of inferior intelligence to make myself feel bigger in our equality.

  6. Bulldog9908 says:

    I’ve used the spray many times, with no ill effects. I heard the horror stories, but frankly, it works so well, I’ll continue to use it.

  7. Youthier says:

    I’ve only done the tablets but Zicam has always worked extremely well for me. I’ll have to keep an eye on this and see what happens. I can tell you I won’t be shoving any of their products up my nose.

  8. robotprom says:

    Every time I take Cold-eze (which I’m guessing has many of the same active ingredients) my sense of taste suffers for a couple of hours. If I’m on a Cold-eze binge I can barely taste most things for a day or two.

  9. yasth says:

    The real reason they are not put through clinical trials is that it is pretty unlikely that any homepathic remedy would pass as effective. The companies selling these nostrums are obviously against that as are homeopathy believers of various stripes.

    It disturbs me to find such things next to things that have been shown to, you know, work, and furthermore be (relatively) safe in doing so.

  10. bluemeep says:

    Their tablets have never worked for me, so I doubt I would have ever tried these in the first place. I honestly doubt I would ever try any of their products again after hearing this…

  11. lestat730 says:

    I’d never put a product like that up my nose in the first place, What ever happened to chicken noodle soup and robotussin?

  12. The Walking Eye says:

    @Danilo Campos: Because they aren’t put through the same rigorous clinical trials that identify side-effects that non “natural” drugs do. Cause we know that if it’s natural, it is therefore unable to hurt us. I don’t buy homeopathic remedies for this reason, as I don’t trust that the company has taken the time to do proper trials to determine risks.

  13. asherchang says:

    If it’s anything but inert, is it really a homeopathic medicine? (Seeing as homeopathy relies on dillution to the point of elimination of any active ingredients) And would a nurse really give her child something scientifically proven not to work?

  14. faust1200 says:

    These accusations are very old. BTW, I would not hesitate to use Zicam. It does work and it did not destroy my sense of smell.

  15. Buckler says:

    When will people do the research and discover that “homeopathic” medicines have -zero- active ingredients? Look: homeopathy is based on two flawed predicates. the first is a notion borrowed from witchcraft: “like cures like”; this means that homeopaths attempt to cure an illness by using a natural substance that can replicate the symptoms of the illness. For example, persons suffering from a cold might be told to eat a onion, since an onion causes sniffles, coughing and a burning throat when eaten.

    The second premise is that dilution increases strength. Homeopaths believe that if a substance is diluted , its potency somehow magically increases. Modern homeopathic preparations are often diluted thousands of times, thus insuring that not a single molecule of “active” ingredient remains in the substance. Followers of homeopathy believe that the water or other carrier of the preparation somehow retains a “memory” of the ingredient, allowing it to do its magic.

    In short, if you’re buying homeopathic medications, you’re buying nothing, and getting ripped off. Any relief you might get is either due to the placebo effect or your body’s natural healing process. Don’t buy into cheap magic; if you must get relief from medication, buy something that actually has medicine in it. If it says “homeopathic” on the label, buy something else.

  16. G-Dog says:
  17. CumaeanSibyl says:

    @asherchang: Yeah, that’s what confuses me. I always thought the one good thing about homeopathic medicine is that it’s not going to have enough of any ingredient to hurt you. Back when homeopathy first came into vogue, in the days of bleeding and purging, that was no small benefit…

    But seriously, what’s wrong with these people that they’re actually putting stuff in their medicine? They’re not very good at this.

  18. G-Dog says:

    I used the stuff a few months ago. My nose burnt the first time, and I blew it out. The next two times I used it I didn’t experience the burning, but I still blew it out.

    I didn’t suffer any ill effects, and my illness was shot down by day three.

    I think it’s more to do with the chemical make-up of the person using it. I guess I’m lucky, but I’m never giving it to my son until I find out more about it.

  19. Trai_Dep says:

    Okay, I’m slow on the uptake. For some people, is the smell/taste loss permanent? Cuz if so that’s evil.

  20. uricmu says:

    I’ve never been able to equate “natural” and “safe”. I mean, poison ivy, poisonous mushrooms, and excrements are all “natural”, and yet I wouldn’t consume them.

    I’m suffering from Tinnitus, for which conventional medicine has no solution, and I am always angry to see the “cures” sold on the internet, and the homeopathic substances that have actually been proven to be ineffective still being sold as “an age old cure”.

  21. acambras says:


    If I’m on a Cold-eze binge I can barely taste most things for a day or two.

    Is that definitely from the Cold-eze, or could that be a side effect of the cold itself? Smell and taste are closely-related, and I know when I’m congested, food doesn’t have much taste (unless I use lots of Tabasco).

  22. BiscuitDoughJones says:

    I’m not cool with putting anything up my nose, so I’ve never used a nasal spray in my life.
    I do like some Zicam products, though. The Zicam cold/flu PM dosing spoons are the greatest thing to ever happen to me. When I get sick, even with a cold, I can’t sleep for anything. The liquid Zicam knocks me out, regardless of how sick I am. But it’s a nice knock-out, not an aggressive, Tylenol PM-y knock-out.
    The spoons taste gnarly, but not nearly as bad as Thera Flu. I can’t even stomach Thera Flu, and it doesn’t work nearly as well as the Zicam.

    I’ve never noticed a change in taste/smell b/c I can’t do either of those things when I’m sick anyway..

  23. SEMMEagent says:

    I wonder how far up his nose he put the gel? According to the instructions, you’re not supposed to ram it on in up there all willy-nilly, but only put it close to the nasal openings.

  24. Mary says:

    I used Zicam once because I didn’t have time to deal with a cold. I read the list of warnings and it said not to use if you had a history of nosebleeds.

    Well, my history of nosebleeds is technically years behind me (I did have them frequently as a child, but it’s a condition that you just grow out of, for the most part) so I decided to try it.

    It was a horrible experience. The burning, the bleeding, the pain…I’ll stick to Sudafed.

    For the record, those Shower Soothers and the little plug ins from Sudafed work wonders. But I’ll never pick up a Zicam product again. Now I’m glad all I had was a little bleeding.

  25. TWinter says:

    I don’t think Zicam is a “real” homeopathic product because they don’t do the massive diluting thing. I think they are just using the term for marketing.

    And there is real scientific evidence in favor of zinc helping your body fight off viruses.

  26. bdgbill says:

    Stay away from children and you will not get colds. I addition to all of their other endearing qualities the little monsters are major disease carriers.

    I had to visit schools often for a job i had years ago. I thought it was normal to have a major cold every 3 months or so and the full blown flu once a year. Since I changed jobs I can sometimes go 2 years between colds. Can’t remember the last time I had the flu.

  27. gone725 says:

    I lost my sense of smell for almost an entire month because of Zicam. Seriously – garlic, bacon, bleach, dog crap… I could hold my nose to it and not smell a thing. I am a chef and it almost cost me my job.

    I do have say that I used to swear by Zicam. This stuff really works! Too bad you lose all ability to smell or taste.

  28. acambras says:


    On the other hand, my sister used to get sick a lot her first few years as an elementary school teacher. Now she rarely gets sick — I think that over the years, she’s built up bigtime immunity to just about every kid-germ there is.

  29. Chaosium says:

    @TWinter: Using homeopathy for marketing purposes is hilarious.

    If homeopathy was real and anything but bullshit, humans would have overdosed a thousand times every time we drink, whatever we drink.

  30. Bay State Darren says:

    @lestat730: Using Robotussin medicinally? I never knew you could that!

  31. RogueSophist says:

    The first time I used Zicam, about three years ago, I noticed it affected my sense of smell. Then I realized that I had pretty much inhaled the stuff, contrary to the clear directions to apply it only to the entrance of the nostril. I expect most of the adversely affected users have done the same thing. There are no olfactory receptors where Zicam is properly applied.

    Three years of proper use later, my few colds have been nearly symptomless. Maybe I’ve just been lucky, or maybe it’s mostly psychosomatic. But as long as I can buy it, I’m not going to stop using the stuff.

  32. JayThree says:

    This is just a lawyers scam. While Snopes can’t obviously debunk it completely, they do have the likely source of how lawyers are riling people up: [www.snopes.com]

    “[Snopes quoting Zicam] A few researchers have attempted to link nasal products containing zinc to the onset of anosmia. However, this hypothesis is based on data from polio studies conducted in the 1930s using a concentrated zinc sulfate solution. Current nasal products, such as Zicam Cold Remedy, contain zinc gluconate, which is an entirely different compound.”

    I do agree with the guy in the article above though- let’s have someone do an independent study before letting the lawyers decide for us.

  33. Gopher bond says:

    I blame the victim. He clearly has a zinc allergy and didn’t know it. This has nothing to do with a chemical burning out the sensory cells in the nose.

    My Sure fire remedies for preventing a cold without losing my sense of smell:

    1. Only touch children with my feet.
    2. Wash my hands before eating.
    3. Otherwise, Keep my hands away from my face.
    4. Keep sinuses warm and moist with general saline spray.
    5. Should I feel a tingling sensation that often precedes a cold, I order the hottest curry of all from the local Thai Restuarant. I tell Kope that I need the number 18, and he needs to make it as hot as he can cause I’ve got a cold coming on. I chow down on that stuff and I’ve got fluids pouring out of nearly every orifice. The last time I ate it I got high, seriously.

    • drizzt380 says:

      But, if the remedy was truly homeopathic (as it claims), then he shouldn’t actually be injecting himself with zinc. Just the left behind vibrations of the zinc in the water molecules.

  34. Trai_Dep says:

    Any way we can wrap all sniffling children in plastic wrap?

    Maybe Zicam can cross-sell nasal mini-pads to ease the social discomfort (or swap, depending on the length of the mini-pad’s string)?

    Sneering teenagers hereby granted permission to hock loogies at atnyone coughing in public w/o covering their mouth.

  35. Ncisfan says:

    my father has used Zicam for years and has said that it works great for him. Anosmia appears to be a rare side effect.

  36. overbysara says:

    I used zicam nose gel once when I had a cold. it really, really worked at making my congestion go away… but it was also very painful… it burned in my nose and it felt like it was up inside my BRAIN at one point. I just brushed it off… I didn’t realize there was possibly a bigger problem…

  37. bchains says:

    The nasal epithelium will regenerate after damage so the abilty to smell *should* return in time. But it may not be worth the risk.. There is an entirely different ongoing debate regarding Zicam’s effectiveness..

    Laryngoscope. 2006 Feb;116(2):217-20.
    Intranasal zinc and anosmia: the zinc-induced anosmia syndrome. Alexander TH, Davidson TM.

    Department of Surgery, Head and Neck Surgery and Continuing Medical Education, University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, VA San Diego Healthcare System, San Diego, CA 92103, USA.

    OBJECTIVE: Commercial preparations of intranasal zinc gluconate gel are marketed as a remedy for the common cold. However, intranasal zinc has been reported as a cause of anosmia in humans and animals. Seventeen patients presenting with anosmia after the use of intranasal zinc gluconate are described. METHODS: The authors conducted a retrospective case series of patients presenting to a nasal dysfunction clinic and conducted complete history and physical examination on all patients, including nasal endoscopy. All patients underwent detailed odor threshold and identification testing. RESULTS: Threshold and identification testing revealed impaired olfaction in all patients. Inflammatory and traumatic causes of anosmia were excluded based on history, physical examination, and imaging. All patients diagnosed with zinc-induced anosmia or hyposmia reported sniffing deeply when applying the gel. This was followed by an immediate sensation of burning lasting minutes to hours. Loss of sense of smell was then perceived within 48 hours. Seven of 17 patients never developed symptoms of an upper respiratory infection. CONCLUSIONS: The zinc-induced anosmia syndrome, characterized by squirt, sniff, burn, and anosmia, occurs after the exposure of olfactory epithelium to zinc cation. It can be distinguished from postviral anosmia based on history.

  38. If any of you do continue to use Zicam (which my parents and I swear by, and my sinuses are already messed up from chronic infections), don’t buy the ones that are the qtips with the sack of fluid packaged around them.

    Just buy the nasal gel and qtips..and put the nasal gel on the qtips and use that in your nose. Way more cost effective…

  39. formergr says:

    @bchains: Interesting journal article. While the sample size was small (N=17), it does seem to confirm what some posters have already mentioned– when used properaly, Zicam should only be applied to the lower inner nostrils, right around the nasal opening.

    That’s how I’ve applied it, and never had any burning. And even though I generally tend to think things like Vitamin C and zinc are hokum, it really did seem to work for me (whether psychosomatic or not I don’t know). I’ve tried zinc lozenges, but they make me throw up.

  40. TVarmy says:

    If you want to take care of your nose, just use saline spray. Store brand is fine, don’t go all out for Ocean or anything. Heck, make your own if you have time. Google up the ratio of water to salt for saline.

  41. will0957 says:

    The last few times I’ve been really stuffed up, like when you blow your nose but nothing comes out, and you’re still so stuffy you can’t breathe… I’ve tried Zicam extreme congestion nasal gel. I swear within 2 minutes of taking it all congestion was completely gone for about 6 hours. They say not to take it more than once every 10 hours I believe.. and let me tell you, it is like CRACK when you have a cold. instant relief that ACTUALLY works. I’m a total fanboy.

    However.. I recently bought some for my girlfriend when she had a cold, and it didn’t do anything besides provide a burning sensation in her nose. Oh well. It works for me, I’ll keep using it!

  42. night_sky says:

    Just want to chime in with my own experience. Ziacam WILL destroy your nasal sensitivity. I know because I stupidly used too much of it one time when I had a really bad, stuffed up nose from a cold. I kept reapplying too frequently and guess what? My nose is utter crap now! I can smell and all that, but my nose is extremely sensitive now to coldness and will bleed every now and then. Now when I get sick, my nose hurts so bad, it hurts to breathe in even the slightest of air and bleeding is almost a given when I have a cold. DON’T USE THIS PRODUCT! Before I used the product, I NEVER had a nose bleed in my life. Now it’s common place. Yeah, I messed up by overusing it, but still, the severe damage this has done to my nose can be done in small increments of use.

  43. I covered the strange labelling of Zicam as “homeopathic”, when it clearly isn’t, in this letters column.

    (It’s also worth mentioning that whatever a “natural remedy” is, homeopathic remedies probably don’t qualify.)

  44. crankymediaguy says:

    “I don’t think Zicam is a “real” homeopathic product because they don’t do the massive diluting thing. I think they are just using the term for marketing.”

    OK, so they’re LYING about their product being pseudo-scientific bullshit?

    That’s some marketing strategy.

  45. Her Grace says:

    @Buckler: You are my commenting hero of the day.

  46. DS28 says:

    this story has been around for awhile.

    I really don’t understand why people use the nasal stuff when the lozenges are just as effective.

    Also, while this product is “homeopathic” it’s not just herbs and the like-cures-like scenario. Researchers believe that the several forms of zinc in these products work by interfering with the replication of the virus within your upper respiratory track. There’s a number of clinical trials that concluded this works, while there’s also several that concluded that they don’t make a difference.

    That being said, I’m willing to shell out $5 to cut the time of my cold in half (based on the science behind it).

  47. Rxram says:

    I’m a pharmacist… I’ve been warning every patient I see looking at Zicam intranasal zinc containing products of this potential side effect (Not to be confused with Zicam extreme congestion/nasal relief which contain a different drug Oxymetazoline… found in other popular over the counter products like Afrin). All be it a rare occurrence associated with the use of this product… and as some users state, they have taken the medication without issue and will continue to do so. It still is still a very significant reaction for those who experience it. Zinc itself has shown some efficacy in reducing the length of a cold… but by no means does it require that you insert in your nose… and why would when there is a far less invasive lozenge alternative available. I’m shocked that a side effect of this life altering magnitude hasn’t gotten better coverage, and am pleased to see Consumerist reporting on it… For what its worth Thank You.

  48. night_sky says:

    Unfortunately I have gotten sever colds many times that other forms of medicine couldn’t help me with. The nasal medicine seemed to be the only thing that worked for me. Maybe that is the case with some other people.

  49. frauenfelder says:

    I’ve used Zicam for years and swear by it. I don’t think my sense of smell has suffered as a result. If Zicam is taken off the market, I’m going to be upset. I want to learn how to home brew it.

    It’s not homeopathic, either. There’s too much of the active ingredient in it to qualify as a homeopathic remedy, and it doesn’t work like a homeopathic remedy is alleged to work. I think Matrixx is calling it “homeopathic” to get around some kind of FDA regulations.

  50. carl2008 says:

    I understand when people say, “I’ve used it for years and nothing’s ever happened to me.” You people need to realize that there has never been a warning on the label to alert users of the potential danger IF USED IMPROPERLY. Back five years ago, this was a serious problem that usually only happened when someone instilled a full dose of it propelled by the original spray bottle and exacerbated by their own hard sniffing. It is most likely a rare occurrence now. Credit the makers of Zicam for doing what it took to cover their butts brilliantly. They switched focus to the swabs and re-designed the nasal spray bottle so now, it does not propel the gel way up the nose. There’s strong evidence to indicate, but no independent research to back up the evidence that ionized zinc gluconate IS capable of causing tissue damage to sensitive tissues such as those located in the ofactory region of the nose.

  51. SamCascade says:

    I am in the process of a class action suit against the manufacturer of Zicam the case has been going on for over three years now. Is there anyone else in the same situation or in some legal action about this product? I would like to compare notes. My life is so different having lost the sense of smell, never realized how important that sense was.

  52. Anonymous says:

    Okay, so what is the big deal here? For real. Side effects, dont they usually depend on the person taking the substance? “Results may vary” isnt that a warning on EVERYTHING? I just randomly typed in Zicam to see more info on it and i found this. Wtf? and right before i even started reading any of this i literally just squirted Zicam in my nose. Honestly, as soon as i use it i can feel the difference. After a couple minutes it relaxes my congestion and all i have to do is blow my nose and _everything_ comes out, i mean everything. its like one of the greatest feelings in the world. See, i have dealt with severe indoor and outdoor allergies my entire life and i recently found out im anemic, so not only do i suffer from congestion daily, i also get sick very often. the past two times i have used this when i had a severe cold it was like finding the holy grail. I suggest that people use it and people need to stop whining and suing everyone just for money. If you dont like it, dont use it. Dont push your opinions on others, how would u like it if i came over to your house and said i didnt like the way it was set up and told you to rearrange it? is it really my place to say that? NO! So get over it!

    • trujunglist says:

      Don’t push your pushiness on others either! I think the point is that people aren’t just saying don’t use it because it sucks or whatever, they’re saying don’t use it because you could end up never tasting anything again. To me, that is a nice warning; whether or not I decide to use it from there is my own business. Using your example, this would be like people saying how great these interior decorators are, so I decide to use them, and instead of doing a great job, they burn out the entire house and make it unlivable. Rearranging is one thing, completely destroying is another.
      I just bought some Zicam melty pills, so I think I’m OK on the smell thing, but if I don’t come back in 30 minutes… call the police!

  53. mwc5446 says:

    My family and I have used it for years now, with no problems. Works great.

  54. Anonymous says:

    Buffx4 – 6/16/2009,,just heard on the news that Zicam will be removed from purchase..I thought it was effective and thought my loss of smell and taste(not permanent) was my head and chest cold and sinus..The loss of both would last up to 2 weeks after the cold was gone..Never thought it was Zicam.Never will use it again..Report today said Zicam will reimburse customers, waiting for that info have 2 opened sprays and one unopened unused gel swabs.