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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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Study Links Zinc Nose Sprays, Loss of Smell

Zicam Zinc Nasal Products Removed From Shelves Last Year

Zinc Sprays and Smell Loss

The analysis included 25 patients treated at the University of California, San Diego Nasal Dysfunction Clinic, which Davidson directs, who experienced loss of smell after using zinc nasal sprays or swabs to prevent or treat colds.

Along with colleague Wendy M. Smith, MD, Davidson applied the nine-point Bradford Hill causation environmental exposure statistical measure to assess the probability that the cold-remedy use caused the loss of sense of smell.

In lawsuits brought by Zicam users, Matrixx has maintained that loss of smell resulted from colds or sinus conditions and not use of the zinc-based nasal products.

Upper respiratory infections and nasal and sinus disease are major causes of both temporary and permanent loss of smell and diminished sense of smell.

Davidson says many of his patients and others with suspected zinc-induced smell loss reported intensely painful burning in the nose when they used the products. This was followed by loss of smell within several hours.

“This is a pain that brings people to their knees,” he says. “And soon after they get over the pain, they realize they can’t smell their coffee. This is very different from viral-induced anosmia.”

Courts Find Evidence Lacking

In an interview with WebMD, Matrixx CEO Bill Hemelt said there is no proven correlation between stinging and burning in people who used zinc nasal products and loss of sense of smell.

He notes that Matrixx’s own studies showed both zinc nasal spray and placebo sprays containing no zinc can cause occasional burning.

In 2006, Matrixx settled a lawsuit brought by 340 zinc-containing Zicam users for $12 million, and Hemelt says the company has settled other cases over the years.

But he adds that 10 judges in 10 cases have found little scientific evidence to support the claim that zinc-containing Zicam nasal products caused loss of smell.

In one such case, Davidson was rejected as an expert witness when the judge ruled his opinions on specific causation to be “seriously flawed.”

More than a dozen Zicam products remain on the market, including several oral zinc-based lozenges.

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