Zinc Acetate Lozenges did not Help with Recovery from the Common Cold

OBJECTIVE: To examine a commercially available zinc acetate lozenge for treating the common cold.

DESIGN: Randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial.

SETTING: Working population in Finland.

PARTICIPANTS: We included men and women aged ≥18 years who usually had ≥1 cold per winter. Exclusions were pregnancy, lactation, chronic runny nose or chronic cough.

INTERVENTION: We randomised 253 participants to receive a package of lozenges to be taken if they caught the common cold. Of the 253 participants, 88 contracted the common cold and 87 were included in our primary analysis. Zinc acetate lozenges contained 13 mg elemental zinc and placebo lozenges contained sucrose octa-acetate to camouflage the taste of zinc. Instruction to use was six times per day for the maximum of 5 days.

PRIMARY OUTCOME: Rate of recovery from the common cold analysed by Cox regression.

RESULTS: There was no difference in the recovery rate between zinc and placebo participants during the 10-day follow-up (rate ratio for zinc vs placebo=0.68, 95% CI 0.42 to 1.08; p=0.10). The recovery rate for the two groups was similar during the 5-day intervention, but for 2 days after the end of zinc/placebo use, the zinc participants recovered significantly slower compared with the placebo participants (p=0.003). In the zinc group, 37% did not report adverse effects, the corresponding proportion being 69% in the placebo group.

CONCLUSIONS: A commercially available zinc acetate lozenge was not effective in treating the common cold when instructed to be used for 5 days after the first symptoms. Taste has been a common problem in previous zinc lozenge trials, but a third of zinc participants did not complain of any adverse effects. More research is needed to evaluate the characteristics of zinc lozenges that may be clinically efficacious before zinc lozenges can be widely promoted for common cold treatment.

Hemilä H, et al. Zinc acetate lozenges for the treatment of the common cold: a randomised controlled trial. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2016 Nov; 82(5): 1393–1398. doi: 10.1111/bcp.13057