Zicam A Nasal Danger?
by Emilia Dellemonico


With colds running rampant across campus, it is only natural that rumors of the dangers of cold medicines has found a revival amongst students and the community. One fairly well known story, about the nasal decongestant spray known as Zicam, has been running up and down the grapevine since 2003, when lawsuits started piling up against the manufacturers of Zicam, Matrixx Corp. Defendants made claims of burning pains in their nasal passages and eventual loss of their sense of smell (known as anosmia) after using the nasal spray to help relieve their cold symptoms.

Unfortunately, whether or not Zicam truly does cause a user to lose their sense of smell has yet to be determined. The only evidence upon which the claims were made were anecdotal in nature, with a variety of alternative explanations possible. Matrixx Corp issued reports with test results that showed no sign of anosmia in users. They also explained that what people might be reporting could be mere coincidence, sometimes the cold itself could be the root of the loss of smell.

Studies that supposedly linked Zicam to anosmia was actually based on research done back in the 1930’s on polio patients. While these patients did lose their sense of smell, they were not actually using the same solution found in Zicam today. The solution used in the 1930s trials was zinc sulfate, while Zicam uses zinc gluconate. Zinc gluconate is considered to be a non-toxic compound that has no harmful effects on human tissue, and though high doses of zinc are considered harmful, it is not clear if this is possible with Zicam decongestant itself. While Matrixx Corp has done tests on the efficiency of its product, it has not looked directly at whether or not it could be the direct cause for anosmia in its users.

While the debate on whether or not Zicam actually causes damage to nasal tissue and sense of smell was never fully settled, court decisions lead to a $12 million settlement for 340 people complaining of anosmia after using the product. No lawsuit called for Zicam to be removed from shelves, however, and some still feel that the nasal spray shouldn’t be made available for anyone to use. While Zicam does provide relief from those bothersome runny noses, the controversy over its possible side effects remains, maybe we should think twice before sticking that spray tube up our nostrils.


  1. This could be grounds for product liability. This form of injury occurs when a defective product harms people. If Zicam truly cause the loss of smell, those victims should rightfully file a complaint against this allegedly harmful drug.