Sniff, sniff: the FDA bans my favorite cold remedy

Whenever I sensed the beginnings of a cold, I stuck a Zicam nasal swab up my nose and immediately began to feel better. My mom, who swore by Zicam, recommended them to me three years ago when, during a road trip through the Pacific Northwest coast, my husband started sneezing and coughing.

Determined not to get sick and intent on fully savoring the taste of salmon, berry pie and microbrew beer that only Oregon and Washington can serve up, I jammed those swabs up my nasal cavities every two hours and breathed deeply. Besides a little runny nose, I avoided my cranky husband's cold and ate to my heart's content.

Maybe it was Zicam or maybe it was just force of will, but now I'll have to part from my gel-covered nose swabs and toss them in the trash. According to the Food and Drug Administration, I need to find another cold remedy. Yesterday, it issued a warning to people to stop using Zicam products because they can cause anosmia, or the loss of one's sense of smell. The FDA has received more than 130 reports from people experiencing anosmia after using Zicam.

Zicam was marketed for having zinc, the mineral touted for its cold-busting powers, but the FDA says animal studies and historical medical literature show zinc is actually toxic to the nose's nerve receptors. Zicam products were marketed as homeopathic remedies so they didn't need FDA approval, but apparently the anosmia complaints have been streaming in to Matrixx, the maker of Zicam, for a few years.

In 2006, Matrixx agreed to pay $12 million to settle several hundred lawsuits, although it said that was not an admission of liability.

Now the FDA is asking Matrixx to recall Zicam products and then file for new drug approval. Until then, guess it's back to chicken soup and bedrest for me when the coughing and sniffles start.
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