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. Judith

    please give me information on getting off of zyrtec. Thank you.

    • lea

      In reference to my previous post, I stopped taking Zyrtec last november. It’s now July, and I’m still itching like crazy. Nine months of not taking these tablets, and it’s made no difference. My husband says I should start taking them again, but I’m determined not to. I think the tablets have altered something in my body, and it’s no longer a case of waiting for the drug to get out of my system. This should have happened by now. I think it’s more a case of them damaging my body for good. I’m so sad and fed up.

  2. Steve C.

    I used doxylamine, a sleep aid (antihistamine) for several years and decided to stop my dependence on them for sleep. Well I didn’t sleep too good for sure but started to have incessant maddening itching all over my body. Scratching makes it worse, way worse. It is a rebound effect where the body’s ability to regulate histamine has been compromised by the suppression of histamine production by the antihistamine. It will pass, but it borders on unbearable. Well I took a zyrtec then found your posts regarding the itching. Dang it! I’ll probably have to start the withdrawal process all over again. I wonder if prednisone would get me through the process? Any advice on that?

  3. xcmom
    United States

    My daughter started getting heat-and-exercise-induced urticaria when she was about 12 or 13 years old. An allergist prescribed Zyrtec, and indeed, taking one Zyrtec a day kept her symptoms under check. She continued on Zyrtec for five years, and any time she missed a day, she would break out in hives. She was very unwilling to go off the Zyrtec because she is a runner and the hives she would get would interfere with her activities. After reading all the stories on websites about itching due to Zyrtec withdrawal, she tried a very gradual tapering regimen. She decreased the dosage by 1/4 pill each time, and stayed at that dose for a few weeks before decreasing by another 1/4 pill. I think when she got down to 1/4 pill a day, she then decreased to 1/8 pill per day, then 1/8 pill every other day and then finally stopped. With this schedule she had very little itching, and has now been Zyrtec-free and hives-free for 18 months.

  4. Patrizia
    The Netherlands

    I had been given Zyrtec 4 months ago because of a bout of hives. The hives didn’t get better, just worse, and I had to take more and more pills. I had stomach and esophagus cramps day and night, my eyes, nose and mouth were very dry, I was immensely tired and sleepy but at night I could not sleep. The stomach cramps made me feel really miserable so 3 weeks ago I stopped using the Zyrtec. I have been through a hell. My whole body was covered in large and very painful blisters, my mouth and eyes and face were swollen, I looked like a monster. My ankles and hands were swollen too. The itching and burning were unbearable. I fainted and vomited from the pain. After 4 days I thought I could bear it no longer but instead of going back to Zyrtec I took a very light dose of Acrivastine, another kind of antihistamine I had tried very shortly in December. In half an hour everything was ok again. I started then weaning off. In 2 weeks I went from 1 pill to 1/3 pill a day (in december I was using 4 pills a day with no results). I hope I shall finally get rid of the addiction this way. Going cold turkey has been the worst torture I have ever experienced.

  5. Travis C.
    Houston, TX

    Thank you so much for talking about this. I was pretty sure all this itching was from stopping Wal Zyr (Zyrtec), but wasn’t sure. I will definitely never take it again. I took it every day for well over a year. Then stopped when I ran out this last time. I stopped about 2 years ago for a very short period and thought I had lice because my head was itching so bad. This time is worse. It’s all over my body. I’m just going to grit my teeth and get through it.

  6. Lea

    Having taken Antihistamines for approx 3 years I have tried to stop taking them in the past but only lasting 4 days due to the extreme itching. This time I stopped on 1st November 2014 and it is now 27th December so I’ve been off them for roughly 8 weeks. It’s been incredibly hard so far and the itching has by no means relented. As I type this post I’m on fire which is what prompted me to share this post.
    I am however determined to get this under control and to never again take a single antihistamine again. What does concern me is that a previous post States that someone still has ‘itchy’ moments even after 3 years. I would be really grateful if there was someone out there who could let me know if they have kicked the habit with success.

  7. Carol

    I am so glad I have found this as I’ve been on zertec for 12 years now due to severe allergic rhinitis, I’ve came off them a few times to help with testing for the allergy research unit at my local hospital and i was demented by the itching, couldn’t understand it, even the staff at the centre hadn’t heard of it. I have had to stop helping as couldn’t bare it. I take one each morning and if I forget by evening I am itching like mad, I occasionally got itchy before them but nothing like this. More needs to be done to make doctors aware of this as it’s extremely unpleasant.

  8. LW

    My gosh! You poor thing! I wonder if there is another thread on this web site that would be more helpful to you? This thread is pretty much dedicated to Citirizine withdrawal. Wishing you the very best of luck!!!

  9. KM

    My story is a bit complicated. I believe that the Antihistamines have damaged my sinuses and my immune system. Anyone out there with a similar experience?
    Seven months ago I got a viral infection–bronchities/laryingitis. I had no sinus involvement. I was completely well before this. No allergies. No sinus problems.
    Then after a month of the viral infection my nose just seemed to quit functioning. My sinuses were swollen, but no drainage. I assumed that the virus had moved into my sinuses and morphed into a sinus infection. I assumed that I had a sinus infection.
    Went to Urgent Care. Diagnosed sinus infection. Prescribed antibiotics, 7 days. No improvement. (I’ve since learned that diagnosing sinsus infection is tricky).
    Then I saw an allergist who treated me for a sinus infection with more antibiotics (course 2), a steriod nose spray (flonase), AND antihistamines–Allegra and Zrytec (Allegra doesn’t work well/Zrytec makes me feel awful). Also did predisone course. My nose got worse, not better–less closed of from swelling (probably the predisone) but running nose/sinus spasms started. My face became swollen. Allergist said I might have allergies. Told him this did not act like an allergy
    Tried another course of antibiotics (3rd Course). Facial swelling comes and goes Switched to Xyzal (cousin of Zrytec). Everything has made it worse.
    4th course of antibiotics. Predisone AGAIN. Continued with Xyzal. Got very depressed and anxious. Crying all the time. Saw therapist. Never connected it with the Xyzal. Then I realized that the Xyzal might be causing the severe depression and anxiety in less than a month.
    Next doc visit. Saw the PA instead of allergist. She did note that another patient in the practice the same day complained of the depression and anxiety from Xyzal. Told me to stop the Xyzal. I stopped it that day. My morning depression stopped the next day, but my sinus symptoms worsened.
    I stopped Xyzal, but now my nose runs all the time. My sinuses in my nose closes off so I can’t breath. Tried Allegra, no help.
    I feel that somehow all these meds the Zrytec, Allegra, Xyzal has damaged my sinuses possibly even the antibiotics.
    Had a CT scan. No sign of infection, but my middle turbinators (sinuses) have air bubbles. Apparently many people have this.
    Got off the meds. I have constant postnasal drip and terrible pain in the nose on the right side.
    Saw ENT. He was horrified at my allergists referral claiming that the air pockets in the sinuses were there before all these events. He said I did not need surgery. He conferred with Allergist’s PA. They decided I needed allergy testing.
    Had allergy testing. I am not allergic.
    Then diagnosed with Vasomotor Rhinitis. Really this means is that I have a runny nose and they don’t know exactly why–I react to hot/cold air, barometric pressure, and fumes from cooking of spices and onions/garlic. I am reacting to smells–espcially cooking spices, seeming to reinforce their theory. Yet I had none of this prior to the initial respiratory infection AND ALL THESE MEDICINES.
    My theory is that one or more drugs has damaged my sinuses/immune system. These violent “anaphylaxis” like reaction to spicy/onion/ garlic smells never happened before. My nose is dry even though it runs. Sounds crazy.
    Meanwhile the ENT and Allergist PA conferenced. They concluded I needed surgery to straigthen my deviated septum, reduce my turbinators (middle sinues) and get rid of the air pockets.
    Left the phone conference totally bewildered HOW an ENT who told me not to allow anyone to do surgery was now suggesting surgery.
    Meanwhile, my nose continues its wild ride of symptoms–closes off, at times when I breath in it feels like the air is super cooled like breathing super glue or some other toxin often for hours at a time. I have postnasal drip causing sleeping problems. Nothing has seemed to help.
    Now I am off predisone, antibiotics, and antihistimines but nose pain and postnasal drip driving me crazy.
    I was so desparate I took an Allergra. It didn’t help, BUT my face swole up. SO IT IS THE ANITHISTIMINES THAT ARE CAUSING THE FACIAL SWELLING. Then I was worse, so I took a Zrytec. My sinus symptoms went away completely, but my face became MORE swollen and my eyes hurt after just one pill. All this nightmare seems caused by the medicines that were supposed to help me.
    After I took the Zrytec with the facial swelling, I decided not to take anymore, but the itching you describe with just one tablet has started.
    Has anyone gone for treatment of a viral/cold/sinus infection to end up much sicker because of these allergy drugs? Has it damaged immune systems?

  10. LW

    I really do empathize with you. My terrible siege of rashes, hives and unbearable itching, followed by CFS and other horrors, began when I stopped Benedryl cold turkey with no idea what that would do.
    I had been taking it for some years, to help me sleep. I was unable to function after stopping the Benedryl, so my allergist put me on Ceterizine. That gave me some relief. When I got ready to stop that, having learned about the dangers of stopping these drugs cold turkey, I tapered off over weeks… 1/2 tablet for about 2 or 3 months, 1/4 tablet for the same length of time.
    That was a manageable and effective method. Maybe you would find that helpful too, if you decide to quit taking it. I really do agree with you – I believe these drugs cause the very thing they are designed to cure – at least for some of us, and the withdrawal is awful, although most doctors do not acknowledge that. Good luck! Let us know how you do!

    • R. Hall
      Lincs, uk

      I have uticaria which has become worse after I stopped taking cetrizine. This has given me the itch. I also suffer from swellings to my face and throat which can get pretty serious at times. I have taken anti histamines for over 20 years, up to 5 a day at times which cannot be good for me. I have found out that anti histamines can subdue the thyroid gland which controls the body metabulism. I am also suffering from hypothyroidism and when my level of thyroxine is low I have many more reactions. When my thyroxine level is at the top of the permited chart band then I very rarely have any problems but unfortunately my doctors try to keep my levels in the lower area of the permited band.

  11. HS

    I started taking Levocetirizine two years ago for seasonal allergies. My doctor never told me to just take it as needed. I had to get off the meds for a skin allergy test and 24 hours later, my body and scalp was covered with hives.
    I called my allergist and she told me to take benadryl. After all the testing, my allergist said that I have auto-immune urticarai (chronic hives). She told me to just continue taking the meds. I honestly think it is taking the allergy meds for two years that caused all these. I don’t know what to do.

  12. LW

    I had terrible itching from the withdrawal. I have read that a withdrawal from any substance usually is at its most intense for the first three days, a little less severe for the next three weeks and past the worst or even finished in three months. I found this to be roughly true for me, although I am sure not everyone wold have the same result. I tried to tough it out by going cold turkey, but could not stand it. I then tried tapering off – 1/2 tablet for a few weeks as the drug came out of my system, then 1/4 tablet for a few more weeks, then stopping altogether. This worked for me, and I was able to get off of it entirely. I do wish you luck – Zyrtec is a bear to get rid of, but you can! Let us know how it goes!

    • Patrizia

      Dear LW, I am glad to read your post. I tried going cold turkey me too but I could not bear it longer than 4 days (see my post of today). I was wondering if tapering off would work but now I understand I have to be patient, it’s not a question of days but of months!

    • Yw
      South wales

      Just read your article about Citrizine withdrawal symptons. I have been on this drug for 26years but never told why or had any allergy tests. Just been trying to get off this tablet for four days but due to the severe and uncontrollable itching have just taken a tablet. I must say the last two days (apart from the itching) I have felt totally different. Not so lethargic and with definitely more energy. Just makes you wonder what is in this drug. My sister took it for 1 day and it knocked her out she couldn’t stop sleeping for two days. I will definitely try reducing the dose and hopefully will be free of this drug in the not too near future. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  13. Chris

    Hi stopped have zyrtec after taking it for over 4 years like many others I had no idea of the dreadful withdrawal symptoms. I have had all the horrible side effects but now onto day 9 and the insomnia due to anxiety is my biggest issue at this stage I have only slept a few hours in the last 4 nights.
    Could someone let me know if they had this side effect how long did it take to go away? even start to abate, would be heaven to sleep for even 3 hours at a time, so tired I am feeling unwell spaced out. Went to dr but she suggested I take a sleeping pill short term to fix it but don’t want to do that as been doing lots of reading and looks like what ever drug we take to try and fix these issues will have other issues, don’t want another rebound attack.
    Once I am hopefully successfully thru this I will post my time line of symptoms and recovery, as reading other success stories has been hugely encouraging to me
    Thank you very much, hope I can hang it out!! It’s hell

  14. LW

    I agree that there is far from full disclosure. I suspect that few physicians know either, tapering worked for me, taken very gradually over many weeks. I have several sensitivities, so another supplement is not on the menu, but that might be helpful to someone. Thanks for that information!

  15. CJZ

    Yes the drug companies know this and they know much more stuff that they will not divulge. It’s all about making money. They know you have to take the med to avoid itching. These meds poison our system and its better to explore natural means to allergy relief. The gradual step down approach is the best method to rid yourself of this drug. What has helped me with withdrawal symptoms is taking some astaxanthin daily. Google it for more info.

  16. michelle

    thank you LW testing went good and now I’m back taking my meds with no itching.

  17. LW

    At least your doctor told you something about the withdrawal symptoms! Most of us have had no information at all about the potential for that terrible itching when we try to stop one of them! Hang in there… I hope the testing goes OK and that you can get relief very soon!

  18. michelle

    me and my son both have been on many different allergy meds due to having very bad allergies. we both have the itching when we stop any of the meds we have been on not just the zyrtec. he started back on zyrtec may 1st and he had to stop it for 3 days for allergy testing. he didn’t have any issues until day 3. me on the other hand I have been taking zyrtec for 5+ years. I have to stay off mine for 5 days. I’m on day four and have done nothing but itch from head to toe. I asked the allergy Dr about this and she said it’s normal from any allergy drug to cause itching due to your body is so used to having the drug and then you just stop luckily tomorrow is my testing and I will be able to take my meds tomorrow afternoon. (side note this is the ONLY allergy med that works for me and my son who have been on just about every one there is).

  19. Hanna

    Getting off of Zyrtec was horrible. Itching like nothing I have ever experienced. And where I itched there were raised marks like I had been attacked by Freddi Crugger. No lie.
    I had been on it for 2yrs. But thought to myself do I really want to be on allergy medication my whole life when I just have seasonal hay fever??? No I don’t. After just being off of it for two days the itching and raised scratches came even just a little scratch did it. :’-(.
    Well after about 2.5 months all symptoms are gone and I feel normal again. Now when I start to have my allergy’s come on I just start doing alot of cardiovascular exercise and it goes away almost completely. I don’t believe in a law suit but I believe an apology and bold lettering on there packaging NEEDS TO BE DONE!

    • robert
      johnson city, tn

      You are absolutely correct! I believe it is criminal not to disclose the possible side effects

      from cessation of using Zyrtec. I have been in communication with the manufacturer

      McNiel Consumer Healthcare. They are big pharma. I always wondered why it was so

      expensive compared to most seasonal allergy drugs…well if you stop to think about, if they are creating a dependence on this pill or suffer the agony of traveling itching.

  20. JEC

    Please take the time to file a complaint with the FDA if you are unhappy with your experience with cetirazine, or you feel that withdrawal symptoms discussed on this forum should be disclosed by the manufacturer.
    It takes only about 5 minutes to complete the complaint form, everything can be completed online.

  21. JP

    Hello. I’m from Portugal and for the last 10 years I am addicted to Cetirizine (Zyrtec’s generic) due to the itchy withdrawal affects, as for the rest of you in this board.
    The itching I’ve been subjected to is unbearable, UNBEARABLE! For several times I tried to stop taking Cetirizine but I just couldn’t handle the horrible skin itching that seemed to get into my bones and burn my skin and eventually had to take the pill again. For those who could overcome the addiction – you are my heroes!!
    I will write to Zyrtec and FDA to show my revolt as for the lack of listing the itching as a secondary effect and also to ask them for a solution to our problem. I beg all of you to do the same…

  22. JB

    I took allegra for years, and then switched to zyrtec about 7 years ago. Over the years, when I tried to stop zyrtec, immense itching EVERYWHERE — feet, palms of hands, inside ears, throat, private areas, scalp, legs, arms, under arms — no place was immune. I finally found this website about 6 months ago when there was a news article in the paper about withdrawal, and I googled “zyrtec withdrawal”.
    I have been weaning myself for 6 months and am almost completely zyrtec free. I couldn’t do the cold turkey because it was publicly embarrassing. As itching would begin at hour 23, I began trying to hold off as long as I could on taking the next pill. Finally got to 36 hours, then 48, 72 hours and am now up to 4.5 days between pills. I do notice my asthma (which had disappeared for years) is recurring more often, but if it gets really bad, I take 5mg of claritin with my inhaler and all symptoms disappear. I think I’ll be zyrtec free within the next 30 days, and believe me, I will never take an antihistamine on a regular basis ever again!

  23. LW

    What a good idea! I will do the same and thank you for the suggestion and the link!

  24. G.S.

    Hi everyone,
    I have had the same itchy problems as everyone else on here. I’ve experienced it with both zyrtec and allegra. I submitted a report to the FDA about the side effects, and I encourage other people to do the same.
    I’m currently taking 1/2 an allegra daily in hopes of weaning off of it completely in the next few months.

  25. tricia k.

    I have a terrible itch on back, arms, some on thighs. I have been on remron for 7 years, read side effects, which were itchie skin all over body, weening off slowly, hard drug to come off of. I take 45 mg. so will stay on 30 mg. for a month, then drop to 15mg., for maybe a little longer. I have seen a doctor, only to put me on claritan, but it did nothing. The only thing that takes itch away for longer periods, is putting aveeno oil all over itchie spots, for a few hours then wash again, and the cream is good too, also have the powder. I will not take a antihistamine. This has been going on from December 2013. I have a steriod cream, but only use it on bigger bumps.

    • Molly

      Hello, I took Levocetirizine because of asthma, tried to stop, very difficult because of itching. I started to lower dose gradually. Started with half a pill and now take half a pill every 5 days. it too a couple of months. The allergist was happy to hear that as he told me he knows it is difficult to stop. I wish he told me that before I have started this medication…
      I also exercise Buteiko Breathing Technique which is helping a lot!!!!

      • Molly

        I wanted to share with you!!!I overcame this drug!!! It is the 12th day I do not take it anymore and feel good!! only gradual slowly lowering dose will do otherwise you really suffer. Good luck.

  26. LW

    The only way I could get off of Zertek was to taper very very slowly. I had a double-whammy: I quit Benedryl cold turkey after years of use and had all of the symptoms you have and more… and then was put on Zertek by an allergist.
    When I tried to stop that, it began all over again, and that is when I found this site. It really saved my sanity. That is when I tapered off. No doctor I have spoken to has ever known – or admitted to knowing – about the side effects of quitting. Thank God for people willing to share on here! Best of luck to you!!! I hope you’ll be free of Benedryl very soon.

  27. edezev

    I stumbled on this site, searching for an answer to the incredible itching/welts I have experienced since discontinuing Benadryl. I have tried to go cold turkey, and am back on the damn things in order to function. I DO NOT UNDERSTAND why there is no mention in any ‘medical literature’ of the risk of
    getting this dermatological response to discontinuing these kind of over the counter drugs.
    I was told by more than one physician that the stuff washed out of your system in 24 hours. Maybe so, but the lingering effects on the release of histamines after using this stuff for a long period of time (for me, at least, I have been using it as a sleep aid/nasal aid for many years) has been unbelievable. I can basically create welts anywhere I scratch, and I have an itching sensation that is hard to ignore. I itch in my sleep, for example, and wake up with welts. I have cut my nails, but even ‘rubbing’ my skin can create a redness and minor welting.
    I am going back to the doctor and see if steroids will help, but finding this website has helped. At least now, I HAVE AN ANSWER TO WHAT IS GOING ON.

  28. SEAS

    I have had a bit of a different experience. I am astounding to read all the posts on the itching and hives… and as a NEW user of the generic form, I have taken it every other day (12 hour version) with the “d” version and found it reminded me of taking dexatrim when I was a teenager. I lost 10 pounds, felt energetic and a bit of a “buzz”. I asked my doctor if this was addictive or dangerous given the temptation to take this for other reasons. I don’t have allergies but sinus that were sensitive to extreme changes in humidity or temperature.
    In this extreme winter in Chicago with -25 to -45 wind chills, it has helped me with drying up the drainage. For awhile I wondered if I just forgot what it felt like to have clear sinuses that dragged me down, but now thing the drug is a bit of a “pick me up”. I went on a vegetable juice fast for a week and stopped taking it completely and had no withdrawals… except for a bit of “blowback” where the drainage really resumed and my energy dropped.
    I was wondering if my withdrawal is similar to when you use nasal spray and your blood vessels are constricted and when it wears off you get a bit of a bad reaction. Anyone have this? With another cold blast I took zyrtec for a couple days but now after reading the potential issues of prolonged use, I will stop now.

    • Molly

      I was using nasal sprays of all kinds like Fluticazon etc and it was hard quitting. I started then using a salt inhaler and it helped opening all airways. Good luck.

  29. LW

    I’m so glad you posted this. But actually, someone who has not experienced the hell that this thrusts us into probably cannot imagine the desperation that we feel, and they are most fortunate. Your daughter was very blessed to have your help and support. Even after 3 years I can still occasionally experience flare-ups of the itching – not to that extent, but still troubling. This thread has been a real support of many of us, and continues to be. I hope your daughter is doing well. Sending her good, healing thoughts!

    • Richie

      I thought I was the only one (not being dramatic). I have suffered trying to quit for twenty years. I am now trying to wean off. I am going to try half a pill (5 mg) each day (half dose) for first week and then maybe try the same quantity every other day, then keep adding an extra day between doses each week. Maybe this is not slow enough. Any ideas?

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