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FDA: Some Zicam Cold Remedies Are Risky

Agency Warns That Zicam Intranasal Products Containing Zinc May Lead to Loss of Sense of Smell; Company Calls FDA's Action 'Unwarranted'
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 16, 2009 -- The FDA today advised people not to use Zicam intranasal products that contain zinc, because of the risk of anosmia (loss of the sense of smell), which may be long-lasting or permanent.

The FDA's warning only applies to the following Zicam products:

  • Zicam Cold Remedy Nasal Gel
  • Zicam Cold Remedy Gel Swabs
  • Zicam Cold Remedy Swabs, Kids Size

"Consumers should stop using these products immediately and should discard or return them," Deborah Autor, director of the FDA's Office of Compliance, said at a news conference. Autor notes that Zicam Cold Remedy Swabs, Kids Size is no longer on the market, but consumers shouldn't use the product if they still have it at home.

Zicam's maker -- Matrixx Initiatives, Inc. -- has voluntarily withdrawn Zicam Cold Remedy Swabs and Zicam Cold Remedy Gel from the market, telling consumers to discard any of the affected products or request a refund by calling 877-942-2626 or visiting Zicam's web site

All of the products covered in the FDA warning are sold over the counter, contain zinc, and are administered into the nose as a homeopathic treatment for colds. The FDA considers the products "misbranded," in part because the product labels don't warn about anosmia risk.

Autor noted that without the sense of smell, people "may not be able to detect dangers, such as gas leaks or something burning in the house, and may not be able to tell whether food is spoiled before eating," as well as having their quality of life diminished.

Zinc can damage receptors in the nose that are needed for smelling, notes Charles Lee, MD, a medical officer in the FDA's Office of Compliance.

The FDA has gotten more than 130 reports of anosmia in people using those products. Some of those people also reported a loss of their sense of taste, according to a warning letter the FDA today sent Matrixx Initiatives, Inc., the company that markets Zicam.

In that letter, which is posted on the FDA's web site, the FDA states that it "is aware that Matrixx appears to have more than 800 reports related to loss of sense of smell associated with Zicam Cold Remedy intranasal products." The FDA has asked Matrixx Initiatives to share those reports with the FDA.

The FDA has ordered Matrixx Initiatives to stop marketing the products without FDA approval, and to plan how to remove the products from the market, Autor said.

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