an itchy man scratching his back

Q. After reading some of the stories on your site about Zyrtec, my summer started to make sense in retrospect.
I started Zyrtec at my doctor’s recommendation for itchy skin on my hands. But every time I would missed taking it for some reason, I would end up way worse, with full-body hives. I couldn’t understand what was happening, as I have never had allergy problems.
After I read the People’s Pharmacy article on Zyrtec, I threw my pills away. I had only taken them for three weeks, but did not escape the withdrawal hives. Day 4 was the worst, and since I had read that, I tried to be patient, and the hives did finally go away, not to return.
What a drug! And my doctor just looked at me blankly as I reported this outcome. He didn’t even answer or seem interested, and he didn’t seem to know about the withdrawal.
A. Cetirizine (Zyrtec) is an antihistamine often used to treat allergies, nasal congestion or hives. Doctors frequently recommend it as less likely to cause drowsiness than popular pills containing diphenhydramine (Benadryl, for example). Nonetheless, cetirizine can also cause drowsiness.
Many visitors to have reported dreadful itching upon withdrawal from Zyrtec. Some have also reported other withdrawal symptoms. Here are a few of their reports:

“I took Zyrtec 1 at bedtime for two years for allergies. It did help with the sneezing, runny nose and congestion, but I recently decided to stop it. I did it as I would most other long-term drugs: I tapered it back. About two days after halving the dose I started itching. One minute my scalp, then my thumb, then it would move to my arm or my chest or my foot or the my face.
“The itch was constantly moving and I was scratching (which I knew was making it worse), so I really tried to ignore it. Apparently, though, I was itching in my sleep and would wake with scratch marks.
“I looked it up to see if this was common and found all these blogs. I was really angry as I’m so uncomfortable and there was nothing about this in the medical literature. I have no hives, just incredible itchiness and I don’t want to take medicine for it. Local lotions and creams don’t help.
“I called the manufacturer and was met with incredibly dumb answer center employees, who claim this is very unusual, and they really have not heard of it. I asked the last “expert” what her education was and she said a medical assistant. She was not very knowledgeable, particularly about histamine at the cellular level (Zyrtec is a type of antihistamine).”

“I’ve been taking Zyrtec for almost a year now because of my cat allergies. I grew up with a wide variety of animals and as an adult now work with them.
“My cat allergy developed when I was a teenager. My symptoms are a runny nose/marathon sneezing, itchy eyes (only if I rubbed them after petting a cat) and a sore throat. I have both psoriasis and eczema so I couldn’t really tell you if I ever develop skin itchiness because I’ve been unceasingly itchy for as long as I can remember.
“When I miss a dose of Zyrtec, my symptoms come back tenfold almost to a textbook time lapse. If I take my last dose Monday morning at 8 AM I’ll start sneezing uncontrollably by 8 PM on Tuesday. It’s miserable.
“The weirdest withdrawal symptom I have is vivid, bad dreams. I was wondering if anyone else has this happen? I can recollect every detail and I’m usually woken up by the nightmare aspects. I’ve tried googling this and it seems these dreams are a common side effect of taking Zyrtec but nothing about experiencing it only as a withdrawal symptom. I only have these dreams as the latter.”

“I used to have seasonal allergies and Zyrtec was prescribed. Although it stopped my sneezing, after awhile I realized I wasn’t hearing well at all; my hearing seemed as bad as that of my elderly parents. My doctor thought the Zyrtec might be the culprit so he prescribed Claritin instead. That worked briefly but my sneezing then became more violent so he prescribed Allegra-D. That did the trick. No sneezing and no itching, but I didn’t like the idea of being dependent on medication.
“When I read in Dr. Andrew Weil’s newsletter about the antioxidant quercetin helping with allergies I immediately got some. I have taken it every day along with vitamin C for several years now and I no longer have seasonal allergies. I can even be around cats! I carry some Allegra with me when traveling just in case something sets me off, but I am a great fan of quercetin and have recommended it to a lot of people.
“By the way, we learned that mature men should not take decongestants. If allergy meds are needed, men should take plain Allegra, not Allegra-D or other decongestants. Decongestants can cause an enlarged prostate to block the flow of urine so catheterization is needed. When that happened to my husband, every doctor who saw him in the emergency room and the urologist afterward asked if he had taken decongestants! We had never heard that before.”

The caveat on decongestants for men with enlarged prostate glands is a serious one that everyone should heed. Having a catheter inserted in the emergency room is no picnic!

Join Over 90,000 Subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

Each week we send two free email newsletters with breaking health news, prescription drug information, home remedies and a preview of our award-winning radio show. Join our mailing list and get the information you need to make confident choices about your health.

  1. Dhruv

    Hi, I have been taking cetirizine for almost 8 years. Last 8 years i took several thousand pills. Last couple of months i notice that these pills don’t really work for me. After few hours of taking cetirizine 10 mg, hives and itching come back and i could not sleep without cetirizine.

    Today, it is my 13th day without cetirizine and trust me these 13 days are worst in my life. From second day i have hives all over my body, it itching like crazy. I itch myself till blood come out. My tongue, face, fingers, foot all got swell up. Every morning i wake up ( if i could sleep at night) with swell feet. It takes few hours before i can walk properly.

    Now something positive, Every passing days hives and itching become lesser and lesser and i am becoming more and more confidence that i could get rid from this poison, My head become clear and i get better sleep without those vivid dream like state ( i think that cause by cetirizine). I lost lots of hair i last few years, now my hair loss got almost stop. My skin feels better and less sensetive. But most importantly, i get this internal belief that i can kick this cetirizine habit and worst days already passed. I am not scared anymore ( i used to keep few cetirizine in my wallet) and can survive without cetirizine for rest of my life. As i read in many forum, that it takes 4-6 weeks to get rid from most hives and itch and 7 months to 1 year for full detox/recovery.

  2. Zaynab
    South Carolina

    I have been taking Zyrtec 10mg 1 pill everg single night for at least 5 years. If I skip 1 night and try to excerise or have sex, my skin starts feeling like it is on fire. I am still taking them. I started taking zyrtec for my year round allergies and now I am more concerned that I am extremely dependent on this drug. I am trying to use more natural remedies and I realized that I cannot function without zyrtec! I am going to try to wean myself as some others have done. Thank you for sharing your stories. I do not feel aline anymore.

  3. Shannon

    I stopped taking Zyrtec on about 5 days ago because I am trying to get pregnant. I am experiencing intense hot flashes followed by cold flashes, jittery feelings which come and go, insomnia, dizziness, and the worst itching I have ever experienced (besides chicken pox).

    I will never take Zyrtec again and recommend that everyone else stays away from it! The itching will make you crazy! It is on your fingers, hair, armpits, back, toes, and everywhere in-between. The bouts of dizziness are decreasing in intensity and frequency, but the itching remains strong, even after day 5. So glad I am not alone and also that I do not have any other scary skin disease or condition on google!!

  4. Lindy M

    OMG I am so happy I found this site. Thought I was going crazy. My doctor had me taking Singulair in the morning, Zyrtec at night and addditionally 3 different nasal sprays – on top of allergy shots for severe allergies I could not shake. I finally got a bit better and decided on my own to get off all of them (except the shots) because my vision was getting a little blurry. I was on these for probably 6 months. Well after I got off everything two or three days later my hands and feet itched and burned so badly I scratched until they bled. I nad no idea I needed to get off gradually. Nothing helped until I gave in and took some Benydryl. When the 4-6 hours comes to take another Benydryl everything starts burning like fire and itching. I did research on Singulair and then found this page about Zyrtec. Wow. I had called the doctor earlier and the nurse had no clue if stopping the pills could be causing it. There is no doubt for me that is the problem. Guess I’ll have to take Benydryl until I can gradually get off of it.

  5. Josh Salm

    I have been addicted to zyrtec ever since I was 11, Im 19 now, and I havent found out until today that it was zytec causing me so much pain. This stuff messes with your nervous system. Seasonal allegies are normal, but not on zyrtec. At the moment, im in guatemala and have not taken any zytec since I left, and my body is on fire. Coming on here, its making so much more sense. I would stop taking zytec for 2 days and my body would be on fire. Simple allergy medication right? These doctors want people to be completely dependant on a pill, so they just prescribe more pills. There is one alternative that has been the best coping mechanism for my withdrawl. Marijuana is a natural antinflammitory, and it helps almost immediately after my body is randomly itching. There is something being hiddin in the pharmaceutical community and i think its that there are NO natural alternatives. Think with common sense, try some weed, and it will help you with the insane itching guaranteed. Marijuana has NO sife effects, and the side effects of zyrtec just prove that any kind of chemical pill isnt good for the body. I will switch to natural remedies, and medicine. I hope this helps

  6. Breezy

    I suffered these same problems after stopping zyrtec. I had only taken it a couple months for my spring allergies. I had taken it before and stopped just fine. This year was different. I had hives and itched liked crazy. A doctor told me I was just having an allergic reaction to something and just start taking it again. I didn’t listen. I tried going cold turkey but it was impossible. I couldn’t function at work. I tried creams and they didn’t offer much relief. I did a lot of reading on this and other sites and decided to try to wean myself off with allegra. I also took solgar quercetin with Ester c and vitamin b. I also took stinging nettles to help with my regular allergies. I also carried around a bottle of after sun aloe (first with lidocaine and later without). I am now much better. I have been antihistamine free for about two weeks now and it is such a relief. I still sometimes get little hives/itches still but it is tolerable. I try to distract myself and it goes away. I don’t even need the aloe anymore. I’ll be glad when I’m completely normal, and I’ll never take antihistamines again including sleeping aids. At the time I felt so hopeless when first dealing with this. So I wanted to share what helped me and to say it will get better.

What Do You Think?

We invite you to share your thoughts with others, but remember that our comment section is a public forum. Please do not use your full first and last name if you want to keep details of your medical history anonymous. A first name and last initial or a pseudonym is acceptable. Advice from other commenters on this website is not a substitute for medical attention. Do not stop any medicine without checking with the prescriber. Stopping medication suddenly could result in serious harm. We expect comments to be civil in tone and language. By commenting, you agree to abide by our commenting policy and website terms & conditions. Comments that do not follow these policies will not be posted.