Zinc taken orally (by mouth) may help to treat colds, but it can cause side effects and interact with medicines. Zinc is available in two forms—oral zinc (e.g., lozenges, tablets, syrup) and intranasal zinc (e.g., swabs and gels). A 2015 analysis of clinical trials found that oral zinc helps to reduce the length of colds when taken within 24 hours after symptoms start. Intranasal zinc has been linked to a severe side effect (irreversible loss of the sense of smell) and should not be used.

A note about safety: Oral zinc can cause nausea and other gastrointestinal symptoms. Long-term use of zinc, especially in high doses, can cause problems such as copper deficiency. Zinc may interact with drugs, including antibiotics and penicillamine (a drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis).