Is Zicam Safe or Dangerous?

February 07, 2006
Volume 03    |   Issue 10

You may have heard of Zicam, the homeopathic cold remedy that was the subject of a recent lawsuit. Over 300 people claimed that use of the remedy caused them to lose their sense of smell – and they won $12 million in a settlement.  Normally, I would advise people to stop using a product that has that kind of potential risk. But in this case, I'm continuing to use Zicam and I think you can too – if you use it properly. Here's why:

The active ingredient in Zicam is zinc gluconate. When swabbed inside the nostrils at the first sign of a cold, it can often shorten the length of the cold. In fact, one study found that it shortens a cold by as much as 75%.

I first talked about these benefits of Zicam way back in 2002. But then I told my readers in December 2004 about some concerns that the product was causing anosmia, loss of smell. We know that anosmia can occur with aging. Now we're finding out that it can also occur when zinc gluconate gets all the way up the nose and reaches the olfactory nerves. We're learning that this can happen if you spray it or if you put a lot of gel in your nose and then lie down, allowing it to reach the nerves that control your sense of smell.

One of my subscribers wrote me about her bout of anosmia that she was certain occurred as a result of using the gel. She had used the gel itself, not the swab, and then lay down on her back to rest. During that time the gel ran back into her sinuses. Immediately afterward, she noticed she had no sense of smell. (Fortunately, she was one of a small percentage of people who regained her ability to smell.)

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I think that if Zicam isn't used properly, it could possibly rob you of your sense of smell as well. We have to understand that only 300 people out of millions of users were affected this way. But it's still a reason to be cautious. After all, one person losing their smell is too many. And I don't want you to be in that number.

So how can you get all the cold-fighting benefits of Zicam without losing your sense of smell? It's easy. Simply use the Zicam swabs and not the spray. The spray sends the product directly into your sinuses where it can do the damage.

But the swabs allow you to control where you put the gel. When using the swabs don't try to get the gel all the way up into your sinuses. Just apply it to the lower portion of your nostrils. I also recommend you don't lay down immediately after using it. Try to apply it in the morning when you're most likely to be active for a couple hours afterward. That's how I use the product. And if you follow these directions, it appears to be safe – and still very effective.

Your voice of reason in Women's Health,


Jafek, B.W. "Anosmia after intranasal zinc gluconate use," Dept of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, U of Colorado School of Medicine.

McBride, K., et al. "Does intranasal application of zinc sulfate produce anosmia in the mouse? An olfactometric and anatomical study," Chem Senses, October 28, 2003.

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