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. 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.

  2. 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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