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Over-The-Counter Cold Remedy Blamed For Loss of Sense of Smell

May 18, 2004 | Some patients claim that an over-the-counter nasal gel to fight a common cold has cost them their sense of smell.

The scent of an onion is enough to make a person cry, but Carolyn Bennett doesn’t cry because of the smell of the onion. It’s because she can’t smell anything at all.

“I was riding a motorcycle with my boyfriend the other day and we went through a really bad area that had skunk,” said Bennett. “He said, ‘that is really bad. That’s the worst I’ve ever smelled. Must be really fresh.’ I said, ‘What was that?’ He said, ‘The skunk. You didn’t smell the skunk?’.“

Bennett says she lost her sense of smell after using Zicam gel and spray to ward off a cold.
Bennett says she lost her sense of smell after using Zicam gel and spray to ward off a cold in January.

“I noticed I had some really bad burning sensation up in this part of my nose,” said Bennett. “Then probably about two weeks later, I noticed I wasn’t smelling at all.”

Now she’s one of a number of people suing Matrixx Initiatives. That company is the Phoenix based maker of Zicam.

Matrixx Initiatives says allegations of problems came after a Colorado doctor tried to link the active ingredient in Zicam to loss of smell.

“We’ve asked him to show his information to us and he has not,” said Carl Johnson, President and CEO of Matrixx Initiatives. “We are saying that we are unaware of anything in the medical literature that supports his allegations. Our own clinical studies do not support the allegations.”

In Chicago, one expert on smell says, however, he’s been dealing with at least 50 patients since 1999 who have complained of smell loss after using Zicam’s gel.

“Why some individuals develop a problem and some don’t it’s not clear,” said Dr. Alan Hirsch of Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation. “Maybe their nasal anatomy is different. But, the bottom line is that enough people are having a problem with it. I think at least they should be warned this is a potential problem and use at their own risk.”

That warning to others is what Bennett wants.

She says she even walks up to strangers in drugstores when she sees with the product.

She also wants to smell grass or the way air changes before a storm.

She has been told that may never happen.

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