Is Zicam safe to use?
December 24, 2005 5:25 PM   Subscribe

Is Zicam safe to use?

There's a lot of conflicting information floating around regarding this cold remedy. Supposedly, it has permanently destroyed some people's sense of smell. It looks like every lawyer in America has bought a "sue zicam now" domain and the FDA so far refuses to get involved. Is this stuff safe? I only found one study that says it isn't and even that has been criticized. Bonus points: Why doesn't the FDA step in?
posted by skallas to Health & Fitness (15 answers total)
I can not answer your question directly, and I doubt you will get anything other then anecdotal evidence from AskMe. Consider how much negative attention it is getting. That should make one cautious. Who know what is up with the FDA. They can be inconsistent, are often somewhat political and like most aspects of government nowadays are somewhat suspect. Personally if there is serious doubt I would not use the stuff until enough time has passed and this litigious stuff works its way out. Think of it like buying a new piece of technology, you should always wait until all the bugs have been worked out.
posted by edgeways at 6:08 PM on December 24, 2005

Zicam has worked for me. When using it, though, it's important NOT to snort it way up your nostil, like you might with regular nose sprays.

The gel should sit in the air passage close to the opening of your nose. I believe the problem with losing your sense of smell is connected with really snorting deeply into your nose.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 6:11 PM on December 24, 2005

I know of no first-hand knowledge on this, but it seems as if the danger is solely associated with the nasal spray.

A quick Google yielded this:
While zinc is critical for maintenance of normal smell function through its action as a cofactor in carbonic anhydrase VI, given directly into the nostrils at high concentrations, it can initiate direct toxic destruction of the olfactory epithelium with which it comes into contact in its spray form. The associated nasal burning is another manifestation of this local toxicity. In animal studies performed in the past, direct insertion of zinc into the nostrils initiated total loss of smell function as measured by sophisticated computer driven, objective techniques. Examination of the olfactory epithelium in these animals after zinc application showed destruction of this tissue.
My own take? I don't feel the spray is safe, and I wouldn't take it myself.

As for the FDA ... a little Googling also reminded me that Zicam's "homeopathic," which I think may limit the ability of the agency to do much. Still, Googling for 'FDA' and 'Zicam' yielded some February 2004 reports about the FDA looking into it. Didn't see any follow-ups about the results of their investigation.
posted by WCityMike at 6:17 PM on December 24, 2005

By "spray" to you mean a liquid form or are you referring to the gel?
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 6:20 PM on December 24, 2005

I don't know about the spray but using the Zicam that oozes out into a snotty thing at the base of your nose always worked. I can still smell. Perhaps people were misusing Zicam or are paticularly sensitive to zinc.
posted by geoff. at 6:48 PM on December 24, 2005

Wow, I just used the nasal q-tips this week. I had not heard about the loss of smell. I haven't noticed anything, but I don't think I'll use it anymore.
posted by Frank Grimes at 6:59 PM on December 24, 2005

Sinus Buster is a pepper based nasal spray, that restored the sense of smell to a woman who lost hers from Zicam.
posted by hortense at 9:05 PM on December 24, 2005

The last few comments in this old MeFi thread raise the possibility that the Zicam/anosmia thing may be a stock scam.
posted by event at 9:11 PM on December 24, 2005

I'm a big believer in not sticking foreign objects up my nose. Good thing they have chewables. (I assume that the problem is with the spray/gel and not the zinc itself.)
posted by youcancallmeal at 9:33 PM on December 24, 2005

(Sinus Buster rocks. I've been using it for a couple of weeks. It took a few uses to acclimate to the "exhilarating bite" but I now actually look forward to it.)
posted by Tubes at 12:00 AM on December 25, 2005

(Sinus Buster rocks. I've been using it for a couple of weeks. It took a few uses to acclimate to the "exhilarating bite" but I now actually look forward to it.)

Beware, Tubes. You get to like that stuff too much, and you'll end up on the other end of it: You can't breathe without it. I personally went through a "rebound" phase after using a decongestant spray longer than I should have. You'll feel worse than when you started, and next time around, you'll question the overall usefulness of the spray in the first place.
posted by thanotopsis at 7:39 AM on December 25, 2005

What is that Sinus Buster guy doing to Oprah? lol
posted by hortense at 9:29 AM on December 25, 2005

But, thanotopsis, Sinus Buster isn't a decongestant medication like Afrin, et. al.

ingredients are: Purified water, oleoresin capsicum, eucalyptus oil, rosemary extract, vitamin C, sea salt, vegetable glycerin.

Oleoresin capsicum is the stuff from pepper spray that makes bad guys cry. A tiny bit up your nose just makes it flow a bit better. There's nothing to cause a rebound effect, which I too have experienced with other products.
posted by Tubes at 6:20 PM on December 25, 2005

I always use (and love) Zicam -- the Q-tip gel kind. I'm generally skeptical about Cold-Eeze zinc tablets and whatnot, but I've found that Zicam works for me: I know it lets me breathe immediately, and although I haven't kept notes, I believe it decreases the duration of my colds. I don't know about a spray version.

I have heard about problems, although I've never known someone who had them. From what I understand, if Zicam is going to kill your sense of smell, it does it the first time you use it. So if you've used it once and been okay, you should still be okay despite repeated use.
posted by booksandlibretti at 12:58 PM on December 26, 2005

I swear by the chewable zicam...I have not gotten a serious cold since I started taking it. Sometimes I will think its allergies and not take it and then realize its a cold too late...even then its a much weaker cold and goes away in a shorter # of days. I still smell just fine.
posted by UMDirector at 10:38 AM on December 28, 2005

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