Is Zicam Effective at Treating Colds?

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Zicam Cold Remedy is a homeopathic remedy. Some people think it can make the symptoms of the common cold get better faster.

Zicam products are sold over-the-counter (OTC). Zinc is the active ingredient in Zicam Cold Remedy products that you take by mouth (oral). Some evidence suggests that zinc may shorten colds.

The original zinc Zicam nasal sprays were recalled because they had serious side effects. The active ingredients in the new nasal Zicam products are plant-based.

This article will go over the oral and nasal Zicam Cold Remedy products. You will learn how Zicam is used and what the possible side effects of Zicam are.

Laura Porter / Verywell

Zicam Cold Remedy Oral Products

There are different Zicam products you can take by mouth for cold symptoms:

  • Zicam RapidMelts
  • Medicated Fruit Drops
  • Wild Cherry Lozenges
  • Oral Mist
  • Ultra Crystals

Two forms of zinc are the active ingredient in these products. The labels will say zincum aceticum and zincum gluconicum. These are the homeopathic names for zinc acetate and zinc gluconate.

Most colds are caused by rhinoviruses. These viruses bind with cells lining your nasal passages. Zinc ions are believed to block the virus from binding.

If you take it when a cold is starting, zinc may help you recover faster. A 2017 review of studies suggested zinc acetate and zinc gluconate lozenges made colds 33% shorter, on average.

Lozenges and other forms of oral Zicam target viruses in the mouth and throat. They should be taken as soon as cold symptoms start.

When taken by mouth, zinc is considered safe as long as you do not use too much, use it too often, or use it too long. However, zinc has side effects like nausea and a bad taste in the mouth.

Homeopathic Zicam Nasal Products

The ingredients in current formulations of Zicam nasal products are plant-based and are found in many homeopathic remedies for allergies and cold symptoms.

Homeopathy is based on the theory that "like cures like." The idea is that using highly diluted amounts of a substance that causes a symptom can "cure" a person of that symptom.

Nasal Zicam products follow this line of thought. The active ingredients in Zicam are highly diluted extracts of three plants from Mexican, Central American, and South American traditional medicine:

  • Galphimia glauca
  • Luffa operculata
  • Sabadilla

While common in homeopathy, there has not been much research on using these plant extracts for cold symptoms.

The inactive ingredients also list a few essential oils:

Is Zicam "Clinically Proven?"

While Zicam still labels its nasal products as being "clinically proven," the website only offers links to clinical studies done on zinc-based products.

Zicam Recall

Nasal Zicam products use zinc as the active ingredient. However, studies have shown that using zinc in the nasal passages can cause serious, even permanent, side effects—including losing your sense of smell.

In June 2009, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned against using Zicam nasal spray or gel swabs.

The manufacturer recalled those Zicam products. In 2015, new zinc-free nasal Zicam formulations came out and are still available.

Who Can Use Zicam Cold Remedy?

The manufacturer states that Zicam is for adults and children 12 and over. The manufacturer doesn't state what risks Zicam may pose to children. You should only give kids Zicam if their pediatrician says that it's OK.

You should always ask your healthcare provider before using any homeopathic products because they are not regulated by the FDA.

Zicam could be harmful for some people, but since there is not a lot of research we don't know how safe or effective the cold remedy products are.

For example, Zicam products should not be taken during pregnancy or breastfeeding because there have not been enough studies to prove that it's safe to do so.

How to Use Zicam

Oral and nasal formulations have different instructions for use.

Oral Zicam Cold Remedy

When taking oral Zicam Cold Remedy products there are a few things to know:

  • Zicam oral products can be taken every three hours
  • Oral Zicam should not be taken on an empty stomach; however, you also should not eat or drink for 15 minutes after you take Zicam
  • Avoid citrus foods or drinks for at least 30 minutes after using Zicam

Nasal Zicam Cold Remedy

Zicam Cold Remedy comes as a nasal spray or a nasal swab. To use nasal preparations of Zicam:

  1. Pump the gel-based spray into each nostril
  2. Lightly massage it into nasal tissues (from the outside) for five seconds
  3. Rub the nasal swab in each nostril and then massage (from the outside) for five seconds

Both nasal products can be used every four hours until your symptoms get better.


Oral Zicam products claim to help with cold symptoms and shorten the length of a cold, but there's limited evidence about how safe and effective they are.

The current nasal Zicam products do not use zinc because of the potential for serious side effects—instead, the nasal formulas are plant-based.

Zicam is marketed to be used by adults and children over age 12. Younger children should not use Zicam products and you should not use them if you're pregnant or breastfeeding.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Rao G, Rowland K. PURLs: Zinc for the common cold--not if, but whenJ Fam Pract. 2011;60(11):669–671.

  3. Hsieh H, Vignesh KS, Deepe GS, Choubey D, Shertzer HG, Genter MB. Mechanistic studies of the toxicity of zinc gluconate in the olfactory neuronal cell line Odora. Toxicol In Vitro. 2016;35:24-30. doi:10.1016/j.tiv.2016.05.003

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By Kristina Duda, RN
Kristina Duda, BSN, RN, CPN, has been working in healthcare since 2002. She specializes in pediatrics and disease and infection prevention.