Is Zicam safe or dangerous?

June 23, 2009
Volume 06    |   Issue 27

Zicam is in the news again. You may have heard of Zicam, the homeopathic cold remedy that was the subject of a recent lawsuit. I told my readers about this three years ago.

In that 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.

Now, years later, the FDA has asked the manufacturers of Zicam to stop selling it and to warn the public against using it. I believe this issue will be resolved and that Zicam will be back on the market. Why? Because I’ve always believed Zicam to be safe – if it’s used 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.

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One of my subscribers wrote me about her bout of anosmia that she was certain occurred as a result of using the Zicam 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.)

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. Or, use oral Zicam, which is available in many stores.

For now, I recommend you honor the FDA’s warnings and stop using Zicam nasally until the product has been released. I think we will find that the people who lost their sense of smell used it inappropriately.

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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