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Maddeningly, it has taken the FDA a full ten years to issue a warning about Zicam Cold Remedy, a homeopathic nasal gel manufactured by Matrixx Initiatives, letting us know that this drug can permanently damage our sense of smell.

According to the FDA website,

The products are:
–Zicam Cold Remedy Nasal Gel
–Zicam Cold Remedy Nasal Swabs
–Zicam Cold Remedy Swabs, Kids Size (a discontinued product)

The FDA has received more than 130 reports of loss of sense of smell associated with the use of these three Zicam products. In these reports, many people who experienced a loss of smell said the condition occurred with the first dose; others reported a loss of the sense of smell after multiple uses of the products.

Despite having settled hundreds of lawsuits over the past few years over this same issue, Matrixx seems to be petulantly insisting that Zicam is safe, listing on its website no side effects apart from drowsiness and stinging.

Losing a sense of smell doesn’t just mean getting less pleasure out of coffee in the morning, either, though this certainly happens too. People without a sense of smell are often unable to detect smells that may signal a life-threatening situation, such as a gas leak or a fire in the house. Something as simple as being able to tell whether the food you’re about to eat is rotten can mean the difference between getting violently sick or not.

So why hasn’t Zicam been flat-out recalled if it poses such a threat to safety? Zicam is a homeopathic drug, which means that it doesn’t receive FDA approval to begin with; it’s possible that this is why the agency is laying relatively low. As of now, the FDA has only asked the company to stop marketing Zicam, and to submit data on its safety and effectiveness.

FDA non-regulation of homeopathic remedies in itself is a fact that needs to be questioned and dealt with, since homeopathic remedies are not only booming in this country—who can afford doctor-prescribed medicine these days?—but are often imported and sold over the internet with little attention to quality or contamination. Particularly disturbing findings have emerged concerning Ayurvedic herbal products sold on the internet, which have been shown to contain toxic levels of mercury, lead, and arsenic.


  1. Gravatar for EllenG

    You're darn right, its maddening! I suspect my daughter has lost her sense of smell due to Zicam use!

    I'm not up on FDA process, and recognize that 'enforcement' hasn't been a major interest of theirs for some years, but but but!

    SO do people sue Zicam AND the FDA???

  2. Gravatar for Mike Ferrara

    Sorry to hear about your daughter. Unfortunately, you cannot sue the FDA. Whether you are a D, R or an Independent, you should understand that under the past 8 years of the Republican Administration, the consumer protection agencies have been underfunded and understaffed. That included the FDA, SEC, CPSC [Consumer Product Safety Commission, NHTSA {National Highway Transportation Safety Administration], and so on. As a general proposition, R's favored the AIG's, insurance, drug, tobacco, Enron's etc. etc. and did what they could do for them. The new administration is changing all of that. You will see safer drugs, safer food,safer toys, less fraud on Wall Street, safer cars, etc. because the regulatory agencies will be doing their jobs. The pendulum swings back and forth and, for now, with this President, the people's interest will be placed ahead of corporate interests.

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