Zicam Cold Remedy

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Zicam Cold Remedy is a homeopathic medication that claims to shorten the duration and severity of the common cold.

In June 2009, the FDA warned consumers not to use Zicam Cold Remedy nasal spray or gel swabs because of the possibility that they may cause people to lose their sense of smell. The manufacturer recalled the products after the warning was issued.

Zicam products were reformulated in 2015 to be zinc-free. The new formula is plant-based.

How to Use It

Zicam Cold Remedy can be given as a nasal spray or a nasal swab.

Gel: Pump once into each nostril, then press lightly on the outside of each nostril with your finger for 5 seconds. Do not sniff the product.

Nasal swabs: Follow the package directions to open the swab, then rub the swab inside one nostril. Dip the swab into the tube again to reapply the medication and repeat in the other nostril. Press lightly on the outside of each nostril with your finger for about 5 seconds.

Both formulations should be used every 4 hours until symptoms are gone.

Also available in RapidMelt, chewable and oral mist form.

Active Ingredients

The active ingredient in the original Zicam cold remedy was zincum gluconicum. However, this was the basis of the FDA warning about these products.

The formulations made as of 2015 list instead Galphimia glauca, Luffa operculata, and Sabadilla. These are highly diluted, in accordance with homeopathic principles.

How It Works

The theory behind the original Zicam Cold Remedy (the nasal spray) was that zinc placed in the nasal cavity would block or kill the rhinovirus (common cold) at the point where it enters the human body.

The reformulated products list effects of the plant-based products as reducing the duration and severity of the common cold. The active ingredients are often found in other homeopathic remedies for allergies and cold symptoms.

Using Zicam in Children

Zicam is labeled for use in children over 6 years old. However, you should consult your child's healthcare provider before giving any cough or cold products to a child, especially under age 6.

Using Zicam While Pregnant

You should speak with your healthcare provider before taking Zicam Cold Remedy (or any other medication) if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.


The suggested retail price for Zicam Cold Remedy nasal gel and gel swabs is about $12, but the actual cost may vary by retailer.

Research Supporting Zicam

Zicam continues to label its products as clinically-proven to shorten colds. These claims were first made based on research into the effects of its zinc-based products.

While Zicam lists the reformulated zinc-free products as being "clinically proven to shorten colds when taken at the first sign," they don't provide the study data.

Zicam lists two major studies that support its claims for the recalled zinc-based products. Both were double-blind, placebo-controlled studies, which means that some participants received Zicam and the rest received a product that did not include any zinc. Neither the participants nor the people administering the medications knew which one they were receiving at the time.

The biggest limitation of these studies is the size of the testing groups. In the first study, just over 200 people were included. In the second, less than 100 took part. This is significant because the smaller the study, the more difficult it is to reproduce the same results in a larger population or to identify side effects.

There have been numerous studies on zinc and the common cold. The results have been inconclusive at best. Zicam Cold Remedy is marketed as a homeopathic product and is not regulated by the FDA, so claims that it shortens the duration and severity of the common cold are not supported by any government agency.

In 2006, a class action lawsuit was settled out of court against the makers of Zicam (and Cold-Eeze) which claimed that the product caused people to lose their sense of smell. The company admitted no wrongdoing.

A Word From Verywell

Homeopathic products are based on the theory that "like cures like." Highly diluted amounts of a substance that can provoke a symptom are used. The newer formulations of Zicam products follow this form of medicine. Homeopathic products are minimally regulated as dietary supplements and do not undergo the same safety and efficacy testing as prescription and over-the-counter drugs.

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Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Hirt MD, Michael; Nobel MD, Sion; Barron BS, Ernesto. "Zinc Nasal Gel for the Treatment of Common Cold Symptoms: A Doubleblind, Placebo-Controlled Trial." ENT Journal Vol. 79, No. 10 Oct 2000. 
  • Mossad, S.B. "Effect of Zincum Gluconicum Nasal Gel on the Duration and Symptom Severity of the Common Cold in Otherwise Healthy Adults." Q J Med 2003; 96:35-43. 
  • ”Frequently Asked Questions.” Zicam website 2009. Zicam LLC.