an itchy man scratching his back

Q. I have had terrible trouble trying to stop taking Zyrtec (the generic is cetirizine). After using this antihistamine for about three years while having allergy shots, I first attempted to stop taking it in preparation for allergy testing. Within three days, my entire body itched. It was so horrible that I was crying and preparing to go to the hospital for relief.

Confused by the relentless itching, I forgot and took a Zyrtec by accident. Lo and behold, before I could get dressed and get in the car, my symptoms were GONE. Now, seven years later, I have tried unsuccessfully at least 10 times to quit this drug, and the reaction is more severe each time.

Today while I was researching this problem online, I found a community of thousands of people who have had the same problems I have. There should be better warnings about this withdrawal problem.

A. Cetirizine is often used to treat itching due to allergies, but the withdrawal phenomenon you and other patients have experienced is not included in the medical literature.
Please discuss this problem with a dermatologist. She might have a solution to weaning off this antihistamine, perhaps with a short course of corticosteroids.

Horrible Itching

People have tried a number of ways to overcome the chronic and nearly intolerable itching that may begin shortly after discontinuing cetirizine. Some people report that a gradual reduction in dose helps a bit and that after several weeks, the itching slowly recedes and eventually disappears.

Since this Q&A was first published, we have come back to the topic of cetirizine withdrawal several times. You may want to review this Q&A and this one. The official prescribing information still contains no indication of a problem occurring with sudden withdrawal of the drug.

Several people indicate from their own experience that if you can get through the first month, the itching disappears within six weeks of stopping the drug. Please share your story of getting off cetirizine in the section below.

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  1. Fiona

    Oh dear….I can’t believe that immunologists continue to prescribe this drug. (Anyone notice that they sell them in packs of 70 now!) I have been taking Zyrtec for over fourteen years. I cut back to a quarter a day 8 years ago when pregnant with my daughter as was concerned it would harm my baby. i was unable to come off it because the withdrawal symptoms were so bad. Symptoms were nausea, intense dizziness, light headedness and crazy itching and huge angiodemic hives. I really want to come off them now as believe they are a contributing factor to fatigue….and tinnitus. I feel dismayed though there don’t appear to be many solutions here. i will post if I find any…I do remember getting some acupuncture once and that did relieve my symptoms. I will also read the blogpost Itchyanna

  2. Susie

    Oh my gosh! I know this thread is old but I Hv been suffering from itching for months and thank God I stumbled upon these 2010 postings. I’ve been to Dr’s for this cuz I’m rubbing myself raw. They’ve put me on creams, antibiotics, etc. It just occurred to me tonight when I took a half Zyrtec FOR itching, Gee could it be from the Zyrtec? Dear God, now I know. I itch as I sit here texting! Now all I Hv to do is get the heck off it somehow!

    • Susie

      I also wanted to say, Susie in PA again, I have had two weird episodes I have been doctoring for. One time I was sitting at the movies. All of a sudden I had creepy crawly feeling starting at my knees, then up my thighs, I got hit, shaky, blurry . I had to quickly leave the movies. I net home and didn’t feel good for 2 hrs. Second time, I was sitting at table after eating leaning up against wall and felt same sensation up my back, I just had blood work, normal. My PCP did a 3D echo with contrast. That was fine.
      Anyone Hv these symptoms? Maybe that was a day ir two I didn’t take a Xyrtec and was going through withdrawal. OMG I can’t believe this! Here U’m doctoring and it’s probably this damn Zyrtec!!!! Anyone with these symptoms or had them please let me know. I am flabbergasted. I can’t believe this nor the fact that I found this site.

  3. Les

    I am a 47 year old woman. About 18 years ago I moved to an area of the U.S. with high seasonal allergy issues which greatly affected me at least 6 months out of the year. My doctor prescribed Zyrtec and Flonase. This was back when both were prescription only. I was told to take Flonase in the spring, but to take 1 zyrtec (10mg) everyday , year round.
    So I have been on Zyrtec for at least 10 years.

    Because of weight gain and brain fog I decided to stop the Zyrtec and learn to live with my allergies. Little did I know what a nightmare it would be to stop this drug from Hell.

    I stopped (cold turkey) zyrtec on March 14, 2016. The intense itching started around day 3. Itching everywhere. Scalp, underarms, inside ears, arms, legs, back….everywhere.
    It seemed to lighten up after week 2, but then came back intensely during week 4.
    It is now week 5 and the itching is at about 90% where it was in week 1.

    This really sucks. But I am determined to ride it out. I will NEVER go back on the ZYRTEC POISON.
    I know the medicine is out of my system by now. What I believe is the antihistamine effect has thrown my body out of whack. My body , after taking zyrtec for 10 years, doesn’t know how to handle histamine at all.
    The question is: is my body ever going to be capable of handling histamine normally, or will I suffer from this effect for years or forever???????

    I am noticing that almost all posts on here are in the time frame of the first 1 to 4 weeks of stopping zyrtec. I am hoping this means past say 4 to 8 weeks at most, most people have minimal to no noticeable itching.???
    I wish more people would come back on here and post a follow-up. When and if the itching stopped. This would greatly help those of us suffering from the itching right now.

    On a side note: my husband was on zyrtec for about 2 years. He stopped (cold turkey) on March 14, 2016. Same as I. His itching was intense for 2 weeks, but has subsided to about 20% now 4 weeks later.
    Maybe the length of withdrawal itching is related to how long you took the drug?
    I will tough this out. Again I state..I will NEVER take ZYRTEC again.
    Everyone…PLEASE report when and if the itching stopped. It would help all of us.

    • Ania

      Hello again. It’s been almost two months since I took my last zyrtec. I wrote few posts ago. I have to tell you, that probably thanks to DAO enzyme i went through this surprisingly well, especially when I recall previous incidents. I took DAO for about 10 days. After that I decided to try without it. And I never took it again. I still have ocasional itching from time to time, but I can stand it easilly. There are days completely free of any symptoms. In my previous posts there is more detailed information. You could try this method to alleviate this horror. I do not know if it can help other people. I never heard or read about anybody trying this for zyrtec withdrawal symptoms, only for histamine intolerance. I just inferred it myself and decided to give it a try with a great success.

  4. Kathy

    Reactine is the worst pill to try to come clean of. I have been on prescription strength 20mg since it came out. My insurance provider stopped paying for the 10 mg when it came out over the counter….so if I wanted it without the cost I had to get the prescription strength 20mg. I have been over 20 years a Reactine/cetirizine junkie. The side effects trying to get off of it are horrible to say the least. Unbearable itching,burning,welts,hives. I have been 7 days without now and am still having terrible itching. I get the itch all over…but the worst for me is on my hands and feet. The allergy specialist told me I would have to take it forever due to the itch. I refuse to be held prisoner to this drug. I have read that vitamin C,A ,and E can help….I also just started that with Benadryl cream when the itch is unbearable.

    I am writing to tell people not to take this drug for allergies. Your allergies are your least problem in comparison to the withdrawal symtoms you encounter. STAY CLEAR of it!

  5. Amy

    I got off Zyrtec after taking it every day for ten years. I have done it a few times before, but only when I switched to Claritin. I probably should have switched to Claritin this time, and then weaned off the Claritin. I’m sure that would have been better. This time, I skipped a day of Zyrtec, then took half a Zyrtec and then skipped a day, and then I took half a Zyrtec for a few days as the itching was pretty bad. I wasn’t alarmed because I had read about this problem with Zyrtec withdrawal. I thought about taking Claritin, but I needed to get off long acting antihistamines. So I started taking a Benadryl at night, when the itching was usually it’s worst. It’s normal for itching to be much worse at night. This is due to the body’s cortisol rhythm. Cortisol rises in the morning, eases in the afternoon, and has a little rise again toward evening and then drops off in the evening so you can sleep. Except with all that itching, who can sleep? The Benadryl worked amazingly well with the evening itching, and it also makes you drowsy so it really helps at night. I found that only needed 12.5mg, which is one quarter of the adult dose – half of one tablet. I took the Benadryl at night for a week, and then stopped. It’s been a month since stopping the Zyrtec completely. The itching is still there a little bit. I’m not sure if it’s normal to still have some itching this long after stopping. It’s MUCH better than it was. I only have itching on my hands now, and only notice it two or three times in the evenings. It seems to happen when I use my hands for some rough task, and the skin gets activated by the contact. If I put lotion on and don’t scratch, it goes away.

  6. Ania

    I forgot to add that I am also on a quite strict diet. I eat vegatables, some fruits, meat, eggs and fish, coconut oil and olive oil. No grains, no dairy no legumes. I am not sure if it helps, since I’ve been on this diet for a long time, and in the past when I forgot Zyrtec, the reaction was almost immediate and very severe, despite the clean way of eatting.

  7. Ania

    I was on Zyrtec for about 15 years, maybe more. I started taking it due to hives and I thought would be sentenced to it till the rest of my life. Whenever I forgot a pill, a terrible bout of hives appeared. I thought it was my primary allergy, so took another pill and everything was back to normal within a half an hour.

    I had only one 10 days break, since I went to hospital for diagnosis. This was the worst time of my life. I had terribly itching hives most of the day. I scratched myself till bleeding. Of course they didn’t find the reason and sent me back home and told to carry on with zyrtec. Then I thought that perhaps I am just histamine intolerant and started digging in the subject.

    This is how I found this thread and also many, many more. I realized that my hives might be the side effect of withdrawal. May primary hives were completely different, and never so acute and permanent. As far as I know antihistamines block the receptors, so the brain cannot see the histamine in the system and make mast-cells to produce even more.

    I believe that after some time mast-cells become hyper-reactive, so when you stop zyrtec, the symptoms occur almost immediately. There is just way too much histamine to be broken out. So I inferred that perhaps I may need more DAO enzyme in my system to get rid of excess histamine. A week ago I took my last dose of Zyrtec, a half of pill and started taking DAOsin. I can hardly believe it, but I can function quite well. I do have some really slight itching occasionally, but I can stand not touching it, and it goes away within few minutes.

    I hope I will be able to stop DAO ofter some time. I take 4 -6 capsules a day. Also at the same time I started taking Vit B injections twice a week. It may help also, since it calms down the whole nervous system. I cannot tell, which one helps more, maybe they act synergistically, but I am doing almost normally. My sleep improved tremendously, I am not brain-fogged in the mornings, no puffiness on my face and more energetic during the day.

    I still fear that the symptoms can occur in their full “beauty”, but I hope it won’t be tha case. Perhaps my experience might be helpful to some of you, I’ve been there, and I know how miserable the life is without Zyrtec once you get used to it. If something changes, I will update. Good luck to you all.

  8. Ron C
    Monterey, CA

    It is somewhat of a relief to have found this Website. Several months ago I began developing a strange case of hives that was determined to have resulted from a reaction to high doses of Aspirin. I had been through two knee replacements and wanting to get off of the Hydrocodone/Acetaminophen I began taking just two of the 500 mg super aspirin, from a well known manufacturer, when the pain became too much. After a few weeks of this I experienced the first episode of hives.

    A visit to the doctor resulted in a prescription for Levocetirizine and Prednisone . This combo did stop the hives, however, once they were gone and I stopped taking them within three to four days the rash and itching began. Palms were first and then the rash began spreading over the upper part of my body. After many applications of Cortisone 10, which was about the only thing to stop the itching for a few hours, I had a scheduled appointment with a dermatologist. I mentioned that I had looked for side effects from Levocetirizine and found that what I was going through was indicated in several articles I had read. It didn’t really seem to register with him but after seeing the rash he said it sure was hives and suggested taking Zyrtec, 10mg, in the mornings and Benadryl before bedtime. This did, of course, stop the hives and itching, however when I stop taking the Zyrtec the itching begins again withing three to four days! I can totally empathize with the people here going through this withdrawal. Unfortunately I don’t have any solutions since my case is more recent but I am going to continue looking for results. Systematic reduction of the Zyrtec seems to be a good way to start and including Vitamin C might help also.

  9. Sarah

    Holy crap! My entire body has been itching like CRAZY today and thought it might be allergies because I ran out of my generic Zyrtec. I’ve only been on it about 3 months. Now I’m starting to think its withdrawal from the medication! I don’t think I’m going to pick up my refill!

  10. Drew

    Same symptoms as most everyone else. Used Claritan D for years, no issue when I needed to stop for testing or end of allergy season. A doctor recommended that I switch to Zyrtec to see if it worked any better. Been on Z for a couple of years, and decided to reduce the amount of medicines I took. The itching and scratching was insane. Tried multiple times to stop Zyrtec cold turkey, not possible. I stepped down the dose over a period of about 7 weeks. Still had some itching here and there, but was able to manage it fairly well. During the last couple of weeks I took maybe an 1/8 of a pill every few days, then less and less. The last “dose” was a little of crushed dust from where I was cutting the pills. Multiple ENTs and Allergy docs I have spoken to play completely dumb or are ignorant to Zyrtec withdrawal . I will never be taking this med again.

  11. Jo
    Houston, Texas

    After taking Zyrtec for several years, I stopped and experienced a week of itching and hallucinogenic dreams. I could bear the itching, but the freaky dreams were awful. I dreaded going to sleep at night. It must be what the “DTs” are like, and I never want to go thru that again.

  12. Josh
    Kansas City, MO

    I have tried to stop taking cetirizine for over a year. I went to my allergist and asked if cetirizine could be the issue but he said it has to be something else and told me to take that every night and Claritin every morning until my hives and itching was gone for 3 months. Then he said I could try again to stop taking it. What dumb advice. I did this for 2 months and then tried to stop taking it again, after 1 day I started getting hives again.

    It isn’t something I had symptoms of prior to taking it. I had seasonal allergies. If I had known I could become dependent on it and have horrible hives all over my body as well as itching bottoms of my feet I would never had taken a single pill.

    I have been off of it for 8 days and in that time I have only been able to get relief with benadryl which I try to only take a half dose when symptoms get unbearable. I am also taking a Quercetin blend and don’t know if they are helping at all. Hope this gets out of my system soon, I have never had itching this bad on the bottom of my feet. It almost hurts.

  13. Jo
    The Netherlands

    Every time I quit taking cetirizine my hand palms start to not only itch but really burn. I’ve spent nights holding anything frozen just to find some reliëf. In addition my whole skin itches (foot soles!) and I get rashes, mainly in my neck, behind ears, and on my arms. But when on cetirizine I feel more and more drowsy, have trouble concentrating, and a constantly dry mouth. So, we’ll see what happens when tree pollen start hitting the air again. Hope that by changing my diet I can stay off anti-histamine. Good luck all!

  14. Vijay
    Mumbai, India

    I am on Cetrizene (5mg) since 4 years (I am 48). I started on it because of an itching bout. I have to have a pill every 4 days. On the 3rd-4th day itching starts usually at the wrists and ankles gradually coming over everywhere I touch. After the pill the itching stops within hours. Yet there have been times when I have gone without the pill for 2-3 weeks without the itching symptoms showing up. I have never taken a pill unless the itching sensations start – everytime I take one I feel this would be the last time before the symptoms disappear.
    The longest I was without the pill (and without itching) was 7 weeks in June-July last year (2015). Such periods have been infrequent – 5 times in 4 years. Then suddenly I started to itch again and have to start taking centrizene every 4 days.
    During the no pill-no itch period I am sure there has been no significant change in my diet or other medications. Sugar is normal – Blood pressure is normal – Slightly underfunctioning liver. I have been wondering what changed in me or my diet for those periods that I dont have to take the pill. So what is going on here.? Do any of you’all have these no pill-no itch periods? Any enlightenment would be appreciated.

  15. Heidi

    I am devastated that this is what is happening to me….and after bloodwork, internists. Etc etc…. No one had figured this out. Now what do I do? If I stop taking it, within hours, I am itching nonstop. Please, if someone has an answer, share it with me.

  16. Carolyn

    I agree with everyone who has written so far. Horrible medicine I was prescribed it and after a few days I started itching horribly. I am still itching but have not taken Zyrtec for about 10 days. Hope it stops soon.

  17. Jim
    North Carolina

    I have been suffering with intense itching (without irritation or inflammation) for the last several months, I’ve discussed the issue with several doctors (e.g., PCP, dermatologist, psychiatrist, and gastroenterologist). I switched to hypoallergenic everything, and the only thing that helped the itch was taking Zyrtec. During that time I’ve also experienced worse drowsiness, insomnia, anxiety, depression, and inability to focus then ever before in my life. Last night I was looking to buy more Zyrtec on Amazon and a reviewer perfectly described my symptoms after he discontinued use. Then I began researching the issue and came across hundreds of testimonials describing the same thing. I’ve decide to try quitting cold turkey. I’ve contacted my PCP and dermatologist to their opinions, but I can’t justify taking another dose. I’m angry at the manufacturers and the FDA for not do anything, but I’m so thankful for all of you who have shared your experience.

    It’s been 60+ hours since my last Zyrtec, and I feel exhausted, itchy, and unable to concentrate. I hope the symptoms get better (I will update here).

  18. Nancy
    Manasquan NJ

    I have been taking zyrtec for over a year after the allergist recommended it for an allergic reaction to antibiotics. I have weaned off to the point of taking 1/2 of a pill every 3 days. By the end of the third day, I can feel the itching slowly overtaking me – I feel it in my tongue, my ears, my hands – anywhere.

  19. Lindsay
    North Yorkshire UK

    I have been on Cetirizine for more years than I can remember. I suffered terribly with Hay-fever. As a teenager (I am now 36) I went to my GP who stated that they recently come back from a seminar where they were told that Cetirizine tablets could be taken in 3’s for bad cases of Hay-fever without any negative side effects.

    As I was told this information by my GP I had no reason to question it and have been taking between 1 to 3 tablets a day. I never realised the extreme itching I experienced when I forgot to take a tablet had anything to do with the tablet itself. I even went to the doctors last year and said to them that when I stopped taking the tablets I itched so unbearably and came out in lumps.

    The doctor prescribed me some aquacaous cream and told me to keep taking the tablets. It wasn’t until a few nights ago when I was in bed and the itching started and I realised I’d missed a tablet that day that I thought to google it. Now I am fuming. I feel like an antihistamine junkie!!!

    I so want to come off these tablets. The itching for me is that bad I can not last more than 10 minutes when its starts. I try not to scratch but sometimes you do it with out thinking and once you start you cant stop. I haven’t taken a tablet today. I have inside got some other antihistamines for when the itching starts. I hoping they will keep the itching at bay so I can come off the Cetirizine. However I don’t want to actually take any medication at all. Whilst typing this I can feel the pin prick itching starting in a number of places. If this method doesn’t work I’ll try the weaning method. I am determined to get off these tablets. Wish me luck.

  20. Ruth

    Was told to stop taking cetirizine because I have restless legs syndrome and was given a Beconase for my allergic rhinitus. Within 4 days I had a terrible itching that is worse in the morning but goes on all day. Night are fine. In the morning it is in legs and arms but in the evening it spreads to face and head.

  21. Basil

    I have been taking Cetirizine (generic brand from London Drugs) for approx 2 years. Initially the doctor prescribed me this because I had itchy eyes and runny nose, and I thought I had allergies.

    So I started taking this and it didn’t really help but those allergies or whatever they were stopped on their own. When I tried to not take this pill I got “EXTREME” itch all over my body in multiple spots at the same time. Everyone around me would notice that I cannot stop itching and my skin gets red and bumpy. I thought that I had some extreme allergies and that I would need to take this pill forever.

    I went to several doctors, and all of them told me to just keep taking it if it works stops the itch. Some said it was my soap or detergent or that I should apply some cream to the area. I immediately said no to that because the itch is internal, and it isn’t in a specific spot. It is just triggered, and once I scratch, I can’t stop.

    Nobody knew what I was talking about and had never seen a patient like me. I went to the allergist and found out I have zero allergies. I was more confused. Then I went for a blood test, and they told me that the cause of the itch is that my Vitamin D level is low. So I started taking Vitamin D pills regularly, and now my Vitamin D level is normal.

    I still itch any time I stop taking these pills. One day, thinking to myself, I realized that the solution to the itch might just be the actual PROBLEM of the itch in the first place. Then I looked it up, and turns out many people had already gone through this. Now I don’t know what to do.

    It is literally impossible to stop because 3 days after not taking the pill the itch is so extreme that I can’t sleep at night. The longest I can go is 6 days, and in those 6 days I lose a lot of sleep. There has to be another solution. I tried reducing the dosage of the pill and it doesn’t seem to work for me. I am wondering if there is an alternate (itch relieving) pill I can take for a couple of months until Cetirizine is out of my system. Once it’s gone then I can stop taking the other pill as well.

  22. Becky

    I too have suffered from Zyrtec withdrawls. After 3 days of being off the drug, at any given time, I itch all over my body, and little bumps appear. I have an allergy test next week and I was supposed to be free of any antihistamine’s for one solid week. I couldn’t do it. I will make sure to tell my allergy doctor of this weird withdrawl. Quite frightning.

  23. Karen
    New York

    While I was researching Zyrtec for my children I came upon these stories of people with horrible itching after stopping this drug. I take Zyrtec every morning for hay fever allergies. Once in a while I would forget to take it and within hours would experience horrible itching everywhere on my body. Then I would remember that I forgot to take my Zyrtec and the next morning would take it and be fine. Then one day I thought to myself, it’s weird that everytime I don’t take it I itch like crazy, what was I covering up by taking Zyrtec everyday? I was afraid that maybe I had an underlying condition that I was ignoring. And now I read that this is a common phenomenon among people who stop taking Zyrtec. I’m appalled and a little anxious about this. After reading this I want to stop Zyrtec, but now I’m afraid to! The itching is so intense, and everywhere on the body it’s horrific! I’m not sure what to do now. And I must say that I am very angry that the company who makes Zyrtec and the FDA seem to want to sweep this all under the rug and ignore the concerns of thousands of people. They always list every possible side affect of a drug, even those that have a one in a million chance of happening, why not mention this “little” affect? Thank you for trying to enhance awareness of this affect. I never would have put it together on my own. Good luck to all those who are suffering with this.

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