It is a popular homeopathic cold remedy sold over the counter across the country, yet some who have used it say it has destroyed their ability to smell. It is a product that may be in your medicine cabinet, and doctors at the University of Colorado say it could pose a risk to you and your family.
7NEWS Investigator John Ferrugia first focused on the well-known cold remedy Zicam and it’s intranasal gel, which includes zinc.
There is another company, Cold-Eeze, that makes a nose spray that contains zinc gluconate. The zinc compound is listed on the front of the package and the complaints from a small group of consumers, like Paige Davison, are the same.
Davison has been teaching at the Connecticut Culinary School for almost five years. She is a private chef serving clients who need special diets and she caters large parties and big events, especially during the Christmas holidays.
“I had a lot of parties coming up and I was very scared of getting a cold. Everybody around me seemed to have the flu,” Davison said.
So, on Dec. 13, she claims she bought a bottle of Cold-Eeze nasal spray, which contains zinc gluconate.
“I gave myself a squirt of it and the burning was unbelievable. I was screaming bloody murder in my kitchen. Yeah, I was hootin’ and hollerin and carrying on,” she said.
But Davison and her husband weren’t concerned about the burning.
“I was like, it’s working,” Davison said.
Later that night, she decided to try a second dose.
“The throbbing, the hurt, the burning. It felt like an explosion in my head. I felt like someone had just busted my nose in or something,” Davison said.
“It was almost like a scream like she had cut her finger off, or sliced her finger. It was extremely loud,” said Peter Davison, her husband.
The next morning, when she came downstairs for breakfast, she knew something was wrong.
“I was frying up bacon that morning and I literally had my face in the saute pan with it steaming. I couldn’t smell a thing, it was just bizarre,” Davison said.
At the University of Connecticut Taste and Smell Clinic, she got the bad news — her sense of smell was almost nonexistent. Since then, she has stopped catering parties. As a chef, Davison knows she is finished.
“I enjoy nice restaurants. I enjoy fine wines. I enjoy perfumes. I enjoy walking to the grocery story and just smelling the fresh bread,” Davison said. “My whole life is around food. Being a chef — it has just crippled me.”
The company that makes the Cold-Eeze spray with zinc gluconate, Quigley Corporation, says it has “received only four complaints about the nasal spray related to anosmia (loss of smell).”
It says it has sold about 100,000 bottles. Of those, two people “have indicated that their sense of smell appears to have been diminished” while the other two have not yet responded to company inquiry.
“There are a number of people who have lost their sense of smell. We don’t know for sure why this has occurred,” said Dr. Bruce Jafek, who practices at the University of Colorado’s Center For Taste and Smell Disorders.
Davison has been in touch with his clinic trying to get answers.
“I am concerned about the use of zinc gluconate into the nose given the history and the past damage to humans, and given animal work that shows it’s toxic,” Jafek said.
But Quigley Corp., the makers of Cold-Eeze, say their product is safe.
While declining an on-camera interview, a company official sent a letter pointing to “a double-blind, placebo-controlled study to evaluate product safety.”
The company says the study “determined that intranasal application of zinc gluconate did not produce anosmia (loss of smell) and found Cold-Eeze nasal spray to be a safe cold remedy when taken as directed.”
The company also referred to one of its consulting medical specialists who was involved in the Cold-Eeze study for its zinc gluconate product, saying he could answer any questions.
Dr. Carl Whitley, a nose and throat specialist, said he was indeed involved in the study, but described the smell test employed in the study as “crude” because, he said, “finding or measuring the loss of smell was not the goal of the (Cold-Eeze) study.”
“If it were the purpose of the study they would have, no doubt, used a more precise measure of smell,” Whitley said. “The goal of the study was to document any reactions in the nasal cavity and subject complaints, not measure smell.”
For Davison, it’s not a scientific argument. It is a life-changing condition. Because she can’t taste anything, her freezer is now full of pre-cooked dinners.
“Something I have a passion for doing, my love of doing, is being in the kitchen and doing what I went to school for. That, I feel, has been taken away from me,” she said.
The complaints by some consumers and concern by the doctors at the University of Colorado involve only one Cold-Eeze item the nasal spray that contains zinc gluconate. There is no issue with Cold-Eeze tablets or other Cold-Eeze products, only the intranasal zinc spray. The same is true with the Zicam product 7NEWS focused on earlier. It does not involve lozenges or other Zicam items only the zinc gluconate nasal application.
On Friday, 7NEWS was inundated with dozens of e-mails and calls from people across the country who claim they too have suffered loss of smell from one of these products. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration continues its investigation into complaints by consumers who have used intranasal zinc gluconate products.