A previous meta-analysis of 3 zinc acetate lozenge trials estimated that colds were on average 40% shorter for the zinc groups. However, the duration of colds is a time outcome, and survival analysis may be a more informative approach. The objective of this individual patient data (IPD) meta-analysis was to estimate the effect of zinc acetate lozenges on the rate of recovery from colds.
We analyzed IPD for 3 randomized placebo-controlled trials in which 80–92 mg/day of elemental zinc were administered as zinc acetate lozenges to 199 common cold patients. We used mixed-effects Cox regression to estimate the effect of zinc.
Patients administered zinc lozenges recovered faster by rate ratio 3.1 (95% confidence interval, 2.1–4.7). The effect was not modified by age, sex, race, allergy, smoking, or baseline common cold severity. On the 5th day, 70% of the zinc patients had recovered compared with 27% of the placebo patients. Accordingly, 2.6 times more patients were cured in the zinc group. The difference also corresponds to the number needed to treat of 2.3 on the 5th day. None of the studies observed serious adverse effects of zinc.
The 3-fold increase in the rate of recovery from the common cold is a clinically important effect. The optimal formulation of zinc lozenges and an ideal frequency of their administration should be examined. Given the evidence of efficacy, common cold patients may be instructed to try zinc acetate lozenges within 24 hours of onset of symptoms.