Intranasal zinc and anosmia: the zinc-induced anosmia syndrome

Laryngoscope. 2006 Feb;116(2):217-20. doi: 10.1097/01.mlg.0000191549.17796.13.


Objective: Commercial preparations of intranasal zinc gluconate gel are marketed as a remedy for the common cold. However, intranasal zinc has been reported as a cause of anosmia in humans and animals. Seventeen patients presenting with anosmia after the use of intranasal zinc gluconate are described.

Methods: The authors conducted a retrospective case series of patients presenting to a nasal dysfunction clinic and conducted complete history and physical examination on all patients, including nasal endoscopy. All patients underwent detailed odor threshold and identification testing.

Results: Threshold and identification testing revealed impaired olfaction in all patients. Inflammatory and traumatic causes of anosmia were excluded based on history, physical examination, and imaging. All patients diagnosed with zinc-induced anosmia or hyposmia reported sniffing deeply when applying the gel. This was followed by an immediate sensation of burning lasting minutes to hours. Loss of sense of smell was then perceived within 48 hours. Seven of 17 patients never developed symptoms of an upper respiratory infection.

Conclusions: The zinc-induced anosmia syndrome, characterized by squirt, sniff, burn, and anosmia, occurs after the exposure of olfactory epithelium to zinc cation. It can be distinguished from postviral anosmia based on history.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Intranasal
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antiviral Agents / administration & dosage
  • Antiviral Agents / adverse effects*
  • Common Cold / drug therapy*
  • Common Cold / prevention & control
  • Female
  • Gluconates / administration & dosage
  • Gluconates / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nonprescription Drugs / adverse effects
  • Olfaction Disorders / chemically induced*
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Gluconates
  • Nonprescription Drugs
  • gluconic acid