White Coat Underground

Zicam—something doesn’t stink here

I’d like to direct your attention toward an excellent discussion of today’s news about the cold “remedy” Zicam. Dr. Novella and the commenters have hit on all the major points; I can’t improve on it.

I would, however, like to give you a personal look at anosmia, or the absence of a sense of smell. It is not at all OK. I have rather nasty seasonal allergies and I also get a lot of upper respiratory tract infections (presumably due to my constant exposure). Several years ago, I came home from the hospital with a nasty cold, had some soup, and went to bed. The next morning I got up and made a pot of coffee. I checked the pot a couple of times to see if it was working as I didn’t smell it brewing. I poured a cup; it was nice an hot. I took one sip, and spit it out. It tasted terrible. I couldn’t smell any of the subtle aromas of the coffee. All I could appreciate was the bitterness on my tongue. Breakfast was similarly horrid. I could appreciate some sweetness and sourness in the yogurt, but that was it.

This was my first experience with anosmia, and everything was different. I couldn’t smell the gas from the stove, the exhaust of the traffic, or the upholstery in my car. The antiseptic smell of the hospital was gone, but so was the smell of urine. It turns out, though, that many “smells” have a strong “taste” component. Certain unpleasant smells, such as the diarrhea associated with C. diff colitis, were still apparent to me, but instead of sensing it in my nose, I sensed it in my mouth. This shift of sensory focus was not a welcome experience.

It took about a month for my sense of smell to fully recover. I’ve become fully or partly anosmic almost yearly since, and it’s one of the things about winter that I dread. I certainly don’t need any help losing that particular sense.

Comments

  1. #1 Russell
    June 17, 2009

    I don’t even want to know what a glass of wine would be like. I’ve used Zicam in the past, on the theory that it wouldn’t hurt and might help. No more.

    Your basic mistake is living in the frozen heartland. Move to Corpus Christi, and you’ll get just the faintest touch of winter each year. Your state tax burden will disppear. You’ll have mangos in the summer, migrating birds in the spring and fall, and seafood year round.

  2. #2 GrayGaffer
    June 17, 2009

    Or to the Pac NW, same reasons (no mangos but lots of salmon) but IMHO prettier.

    My sense of smell seems to have been destroyed by 42 years of smoking. I had hoped it would return, but after 4 years tobacco-free no such luck. My wife thinks it is an advantage – I get to clean up the kitty litters and kitty-pukes. We have three cats, and one of them has kidney problems resulting in occasional voluminous projectile vomiting.

    And now I have a name for it – anosmia. Thanks.

  3. #3 The Blind Watchmaker
    June 17, 2009

    Zicam would have made my medical school and residency E.R. rotations easier to bear. What I would have given to have no sense of smell.

  4. #4 Joe
    June 17, 2009

    An older friend of mine isolated and characterized the skunk odorant back in the 1960s. The chemistry building reeked for a few years because he was regularly working with the dead animals. They say he was only able to do the work because he is such a nice guy that nobody could become angry with him.

    Since I have a limited sense of smell (skunks are nearly odorless), I said I would have been his ideal student. Then I went to a lab where they cultured clostridia- that odor would put a vulture off a carcas. On the other hand, it allowed me to use ordinary, stinky chemicals because everyone blamed atrocious odors on clostridia-boy.

  5. #5 Russell
    June 18, 2009

    In hospitals, the smell I liked the least was the sour from sawing through bone. But one gets used to smells. Look at people who live in paper mill towns. In the PNW, Port Townsend had the sense to put the paper mill leeward of the town. Port Angeles, not quite. But for some reason, that mill doesn’t smell as bad as the ones on the east coast. Different technology, I imagine.

  6. #6 Liisa
    June 18, 2009

    Ick, I wouldn’t want to lose my ability to smell just when I started learning how to make perfumes.

    I’m however famous for not recognizing the smell of meat gone bad. My mom could tell how I found something at the bottom of the fridge and used it – unless there are visible colonies of bacteria or apparent discoloration, I’m not able to say. That’s why I rarely eat meat at home but for dried bacon.

  7. #7 DebinOz
    June 18, 2009

    My mother had no sense of smell due to terrible bronchio-type of diseases in her childhood.

    Many a time we would arrive home from school to a nauseating smell of ‘natural gas’ in our house – the flame had gone out under some concoction cooking on the stove, and our mother hadn’t realised!!! Thank god she didn’t smoke or we could have gone boom.

    She would also mix horrible concoctions of bleach and ammonia to scrub the toilets (she had four sons, and didn’t think her job was done until the toilets were scrubbed daily). LOL – she wondered why she felt a little funny after having her head down in a dunny, whilst scrubbing with any number of solvents!

  8. #8 Dianne
    June 18, 2009

    Zicam would have made my medical school and residency E.R. rotations easier to bear.

    Are you sure? Ok, it might be nice in some situations but do you reallly want to taste C diff diarrhea?

  9. #9 Michael Simpson
    June 18, 2009

    If Big Pharma did this, there would be prison sentences handed out. And the press would be all over it. Think about this: the efficacy of Zicam is debatable at best and zero at worst. The risk, though small, is a serious one. Anosmia not only effects your quality of life, but it’s a safety problem–not waking up when your house is burning down sounds like a major concern. A real clinical trial would have determined the risks and benefits. Post marketing follow up would have uncovered the anosmia adverse events.

    The executives of Matrixx ought to be arrested (powers that the FDA has), tried and imprisoned. And of course, it’s the one time that the homeopathic woo-pushing crowd agrees with the science crowd. Amusing.

  10. #10 Karl Withakay
    June 18, 2009

    Using Zicam could also increase your risk of Iocaine Powder poisoning.

    How would you know if something doesn’t have a scent if you can’t smell anything at all?

    Of course the Iocaine poisoning risk would be greatest for people in Australian and people going up against Sicilians when death is on the line.

    Rumor has it that land wars in Asia will be unaffected.

  11. #11 Dianne
    June 18, 2009

    If Big Pharma did this, there would be prison sentences handed out.

    If Big Pharma did this, it would be illegal. Thanks to the lobbying powers of Big Homeopath, Matrixx broke no laws and the execs responsible will not go to jail but instead will pass go and will collect $200. The best we can hope for is that this wakes people up to the need to regulate naturopathic/homeopathic treatments in the same way that real medication is regulated, i.e. demand safety and efficacy data before releasing it to the public.

  12. #12 leigh
    June 18, 2009

    i just wanted to point out that another AP writer has put some smack down on the homeopathy racket, using the recent news of zicam’s issues… in case you haven’t yet seen it. enjoy:
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090617/ap_on_he_me/us_med_unproven_remedies_homeopathy

  13. #13 Tsu Dho Nimh
    June 19, 2009

    Pub Med has two articles on zinc gluconate gel causing anosmia, from about 2000.

    When did Zicam go on the market?

  14. #14 James Pannozzi
    June 20, 2009

    Well well well, what have we here? ANOTHER anti-Homeopathy screed from PalMD?!!

    How can a guy who gets it so right regarding the politics of the Republicans (or whatever that thing is that was once the Republican party) get SO MIXED UP about Homeopathy??

    Problem number one, IS ZICAM REALLY A HOMEOPATHIC remedy?

    Problem number two, if it IS, then how in the hell can something with NOTHING in it (where’s that chap who used to post all the zeros), possibly affect one’s sense of smell ….???

    In other words, either it is NOT a true Homeopathic remedy and they are just exploiting labeling loopholes in the FDA rules, regulations and laws, OR ELSE it really IS a Homeopathic remedy and you will thereby have admitted that Homeopathic remedies can and do have a physiological effect.

    Your comments are of interest.

    Thanks.

  15. #15 MonkeyPox
    June 20, 2009

    Awww…poor little Jimmy is sad cuz someone made fun of his silly little religion. Poor baby.

  16. #16 LanceR, JSG
    June 20, 2009

    Problem number one, IS ZICAM REALLY A HOMEOPATHIC remedy?

    Hmm… let’s look at the label. Right here where it says “A Homeopathic Remedy”. Well, I guess that means it’s a homeopathic remedy.

    No True Homeopath, right?

  17. #17 James Pannozzi
    June 24, 2009

    @LanceR

    Excuse me LanceR? You GUESSED wrongly.

    The following is from an article by
    Steve Coward ND and Kristina Lewis ND, entitled
    “ZICAM IS NOT HOMEOPATHY”.

    and the full article can be read at the National Center for Homeopathy website at this link:
    http://homeopathic.org/articles/view,341

    “Zicam is also not prepared like a true homeopathic remedy. Zicam’s labeling is misleading, claiming to be a “homeopathic preparation” of “1x potency” but in reality it is simply a 10% solution of zinc gluconate. Typical homeopathic remedies are much, much more dilute, often so dilute there are no molecules of the original substance left. The manufacturers of Zicam have simply adopted homeopathic nomenclature as a deceptive way to market a 10% solution of zinc gluconate without FDA oversight. ”

    “It has long been known (since the 1930s) that intranasal zinc in the quantities found in Zicam can cause permanent loss of smell. There have been lawsuits for several years against Zicam for this loss of smell, but only this week has the FDA finally posted an official warning.”

    “To link the problems with Zicam to all homeopathic medicines is not an accurate comparison as they are two completely different entities. ”

    But all this is, I’m sure, irrelevant to those who will seize at any opportunity, however unscientific, even if obviously misrepresentative, to attack alternative medicine.

    I understand how threatening modern science can be to old and established academic satrapies. Along comes a new discovery and a life time of works gets wiped or at least superseded. Look at Professor Thompson’s insistence that the Mayan glyphs were absolutely not phonetic. Any graduate student that dared go against that would promptly have his or her career ruined by an avenging Dr. Thompson. Within months of Thompson’s death, a Russian scientist, who had bothered to learn the modern and still spoken descendants of ancient Mayan, proved him wrong.

    Skepticism in science is good, it is a necessity – but unreasoning skepticism, irrational skepticism, skepticism that needs to misrepresent facts in order to protect itself is NO good.

  18. #18 LanceR, JSG
    June 24, 2009

    Yep. No True Homeopath. You got anything substantive? The National Center for Homeopathy is not exactly what I’d call an unbiased source. Seems to me homeopaths were happy enough to include Zicam (Which did have some small efficacy) before we discovered the horrendous side effects. Now they are running away from it like scurrying rats.

    Which is, of course, exactly the “No True Scotsman” defense.

  19. #20 LanceR, JSG
    July 1, 2009

    Screaming irrelevancy. No true homeopath defense.

    You got anything substantive, Jimmy? Didn’t think so.

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