What You Need to Know About the Zicam Warning

On May 16, 2009, the Food and Drug Administration warned consumers to stop using Zicam because the popular cold remedy could damage or destroy their sense of smell. The remedy's manufacturer, Matrixx Initiatives, Inc., voluntarily withdrew Zicam from the market and offered to refund consumers who purchased Zicam. Here's everything you need to know and additional questions you can ask your doctor.

Q: What is Zicam and how does it work? A: Zicam is an over-the-counter product that contains zinc and is used to reduce both the duration and the severity of the common cold. According to the manufacturer, Zicam works best when used or taken within 24 to 48 hours of the onset of common cold symptoms such as runny nose, nasal congestion or coughing.

Q: Is Zicam a drug? A: Zicam was not approved by the FDA as a drug and it was not marketed as a drug. Zicam's manufacturer, Matrixx Initiatives, Inc., marketed Zicam as a homeopathic remedy.

Q: Does Zicam actually work? A: There have been some studies done that showed that zinc products such as Zicam have reduced the length of a person's cold by one day, when it did show benefit. However, there is no conclusive evidence that Zicam, or similar products, actually works.

Q: Why did the FDA issue a warning about Zicam? A: The product may damage or destroy a person's sense of smell, according to the FDA. It is a condition called anosmia. Since 1999, the FDA has received complaints from 130 people who reported losing their sense of smell after using Zicam. However, hundreds of people have filed lawsuits against Matrixx Initiatives claiming Zicam damaged their sense of smell. According to a report in the New York Times, the company settled 340 lawsuits for $12 million. The company also received more than 800 reports of customers losing their sense of smell, but did not provide the FDA with those reports. Note that the FDA did not issue a formal recall about Zicam, but a warning. Matrixx Initiatives, Inc. voluntarily recalled the products from stores.

Q: Which Zicam products did the FDA issue a warning about? A: The FDA issued warnings about Zicam Cold Remedy Nasal Gel, Zicam Cold Remedy Swabs and Zicam Cold Remedy Swabs, Kids Size.

Q: How many people have been affected? A: According to a report in the New York Times, there have been 130 reports of anosmia from using Zicam since 1999. There have also been 340 lawsuits. Another 800 people complained to the company that Zicam destroyed their sense of smell.

Q: I bought or used Zicam, should I be worried? A: If you have used the product and haven't noticed any changes in your sense of smell, then you should not worry. You may want to follow the FDA's recommendation to throw out any remaining or unopened product you have, or contact Zicam at 1-877-942-2626 or visit www.zicam.com to request a refund. If you have any further concerns, call your doctor.

Q: I think I am having trouble with my sense of smell since using Zicam. What should I do? A: See your doctor and explained when you used the product and how often.

Q: I used Zicam and it worked for me! Will the product be back on the market? A: The product was voluntarily withdrawn by Matrixx Initiatives, Inc. If the company wishes to continue marketing Zicam, it will have to submit safety and effectiveness data to the FDA and, ultimately, seek FDA approval for the product.

Q: Do you have other advice on how to prevent colds? A: There are many ways to prevent the common cold -- the most effective of which may be to wash your hands before touching your mouth, nose or eyes! Visit our Cold Prevention Center to learn how to stop the common cold before it starts. Visit our Cold Remedies Center to learn about how to shake common cold symptoms and get better as quickly as possible (here's a hint: chicken soup works, but echinacea does not!).