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. Sheila
    Ohio
    Reply

    I’m going off an antidepressant (Pristiq) which I have used before without incident. When I went on it again, I developed symptoms that I later realized were due to the Pristiq. I decided to withdraw from it, first by cutting the dose in half and so on. Not a good idea! Very bad itching and a total body rash. The PDR says it could last up to 4 months. Withdrawing must be done over several months, tapering by a small amount each week. I was reading that sometimes withdrawal symptoms are worse for a time after one is completely off the drug. Swell.

    So I was googling to find out if Benadryl might help. I’ve used it once long ago and was sleepy. I could take it at night, I guess. Or go to the doctor for steroids. My experience with Zyrtec was that it helped my allergies tremendously, but occasionally (like on a trip) I would forget to take it along. In a few days I would have terrible internal itching without a rash. The first time it happened, it took awhile for me to connect it with the absence of Zyrtec. Taking one solved the problem (and the allergies). Recently, I noticed that I hadn’t been taking Zyrtec and I couldn’t remember when I had stopped it or why. I remembered my terrible allergies which seemed to be less than I remembered (cured by Zyrtec?–kidding). I also hadn’t had withdrawal symptoms this time. Weird. I thought I should go back on it because the prior allergies were so bad. I went back on it and saw no change in the allergies, so I stopped it again. No withdrawal symptoms! But then I went off Pristiq and am itching from that. I suppose “irony” is the nicest word to describe that.

    I know that occasionally allergies can spontaneously go away (rare). Usually they go away when one has cancer or AIDS or other diseases that affect the immune system.
    I have had cancer between the last two episodes with Zyrtec. Fortunately it was caught early so the risk of metastasis is low. I know my immune system is okay, though, because of the rash I have developed from Pristiq and also because I just saw the surgeon recently and she thought I was fine cancer-wise. So I don’t know what could have caused the lack of withdrawal symptoms from Zyrtec last time.

    To some of the comments above. Benadryl is safe. It has been around for ages. Lots of people use it as a non-addicting sleeping pill because it can make one drowsy.
    Rarely, some people develop a paradoxical reaction and become agitated. I learned this when I gave my then toddler son a test dose of Benadryl. He flew around the house for several hours. I had given him that because we were taking a looong plane trip and I wanted him to nap a bit more than usual. I was really glad that I had done a pre-test. It would have been awful if I had given him that dose just as we were taking off!

    Also, you can build up an allergic sensitivity to something over time. You use a product for years and one day, with no warning, you get a massive allergic reaction. The only example I can think of off the bat is the old formulation of Tide detergent. It would cause (with a time delay) a terrible skin rash (contact dermatitis). I don’t know if there was itching. The new Tide apparently doesn’t cause this.

    Claritin, Zyrtec, and Allegra are all long-acting antihistamines. There are some others, too. Usually, if you have trouble with one, a switch to another one does away with the problem. Allergy medicine prior to Claritin had to be taken several times a day and usually caused drowsiness. So there can be real benefit to these drugs, because life without them, if you have severe allergies and/or asthma is a challenge.

  2. Louise
    Miami Florida
    Reply

    Finally, I get it. I had plastic surgery and stopped the Zyrtec for quite a few days and boy was I itchy. I’m still so itchy that I’m on prednisone, Benadryl and Zyrtec.

    I’ll call my allergist in the morning but thanks to this website, I understand why I’m so itchy and miserable. It should be on a WARNING that withdrawal is worse than the original allergy…
    Namaste

  3. Jennifer B.
    US
    Reply

    I too took Zyrtec for 3 years for skin allergies. I’ve completely rid myself of all exposures of allergens to my skin and decided to go off Zyrtec. The itching was insane it felt like it was in my bones it was all over my body. I read Allegra helps with this. I’m on my second bottle of 30 day Allegra & just stopped it cold turkey. I lasted 3 days with no itching but couldn’t take it and took a pill. I’m going to see if I can now get myself off Allegra. Anyone else have an issues getting off Allegra?

  4. Kaja
    Utah
    Reply

    I’ve been on zyrtec for 3 years. I know the reason I got on it was because of allergies from the state I was living in and now that I have moved back home I wanted to get off Zyrtec since I never had allergies here. If I forgot even one day I was itching like a maniac. I decided I was going to get off this drug no matter what. I am using a tapering off approach. I did a week of 3/4 pill, a week of 1/2 pill, a week of 1/4 pill and am now on day 4 of no pill. Yes, I’m itching, but not nearly as bad as when I went off cold turkey before. Every step down I would itch but after a few days it was like my body adjusted and I wouldn’t itch anymore. I’m hoping the itching stops soon. It is definitely getting annoying, but I do have hours now where I don’t itch so I know it’s getting better. Hoping all of you can find your way off. This is ridiculous!

  5. Ankit
    Uttrakhand
    Reply

    I took levocitrizine dihydrocloride with some other tablets 5 years back with doctor’s prescription. I used to had rashes in my thighs. After few weeks the rashes are gone but able not able to leave the citrizine. Till now every 3rd day I have to take 5mg Levocitrizine or my whole body starts itching horribly. I was not knowing what’s happening to me. I consulted to many doctors but they don’t seem to show interest, for them it’s like am taking something. Now I seen this post & got to know that there is a withdrawal to this medicine. Now still am very afraid to go through the process. Let’s see.

  6. Stacey
    Wantagh, ny
    Reply

    I have a blood cancer, myelofibrosis, platelets over 1 million and fibrosis in the bone marrow. I take a lot of medications and the disease does cause itching. Ive have been on Allergra for years and it also causes weight gain and dries out my nose. Sometimes i try to stop taking it but after day 2, the itching comes back ten times worst. How long does it take to feel normal again?

  7. C M
    Greensboro
    Reply

    I too am dealing with the itching of stopping antihistamines. I have taken them all at one time or another. My allergy doctor is insisting that I continue to take Xyzal and montelukcast sodium, steroid nasal spray, Symbicort, and inhaler daily. However, my allergy tests showed no reaction. I have had two sets of allergy testing, about 5 years apart. Neither series showed reactions. I am concerned about the amount of medication in addition to the cost, so I am tapering off. I don’t think I need to take that much medication. I am also considering another allergy doctor. I feel much better without all the medication. The fatigue and dullness is gone. I am left with the itching. The pediatric dose of Claritin seems to help control the itching and I will be tapering that dosage. Spring is coming and I will see what happens then. I think I would rather have seasonal sneezing instead of all the side effects of the meds.

  8. James P.
    Pittsburgh,Pa
    Reply

    I had heat rash problems from working in the summer sun for too long. The dermatologist gave me prescription for XYZAL 5mg four times a day for a week..then three times a day..for a week..twice…then 1 pill..a day for a month..and Topicort spray for the rashes…and CeraVe cream. I noticed strange red steaks in my skin after taking a warm shower. I called the 800 number for Topicort and talked to a pharmacist there. She said it was the XYZAL my body’s reaction to it. I used both pills and Topicort for a month as directed. Immediately after stopping both I have red patches that flare up in different parts of my body through the day..neck..back…and severe itching. When I come out of the shower (using warm/mild water it is worse). I called the doctors office. They advised me to drink a lot of water to flush it out of my system and use the Cera Ve to help (it does). It is five weeks since I stopped taking the pills and using the spray and still having withdraw problems. I read somewhere it takes at least six weeks to get free of it. My original problem was BETTER than the “CURE”(?)… Anyone experiencing this? How long does it take? In short I think a lot of these drugs are poison, pushed by drug companies only interested in profits..and drs..who are the same.

    • Jim
      Pittsburgh.Pa
      Reply

      Nine weeks and still having problems, Get “flare ups” out of blue. All of a sudden will feel intense itching in an area on my neck.. it is red streaking. Put Cere Ve on it…and it helps but later the same thing will happen. After a warm shower same parts of my body will be red… Use the same cream. Not as bad as it was two months ago…but after NINE weeks! Give me a break.

  9. Mary
    CO
    Reply

    Like so many of you I’ve been taking Zyrtec and Cetirizine for so long, probably 10 years. About 4 years ago I had my first itching attack when I forgot to take it for a couple of days. The itching was was bad I was scratching my skin raw!!!! I was to the point of wanting to rip the flesh off my bones!!! I kid you not! It happened again but not as bad.

    I just started itching the other day and googled it and ran across all these threads. I started weaning off it and then decided to just go off it and use Allegra. Nope, after 2 days I started itching like crazy this morning!!! I took 1 Cetirizine and will start the long process of weaning off again. Now if the Citirizine would just kick in and the itching would STOP!!! I wonder if you could stop taking it and just take Benadryl until the itching stops? Has anyone tried it? I’m actually scared to try it, this is torture! They should use itching as a form of torture! Seriously! Oh by the way I also have had a lot of weight gain and developed tinnitus…. hmmmm, makes you wonder…

  10. Cyn
    Nevada
    Reply

    I have taken Zyrtec or generic cetirizine daily for at least 10 years. I have severe seasonal and environmental allergies and Zyrtec has worked pretty well to help control my symptoms. However, I have gained a lot of weight over the last decade, and also developed tinnitus. I wonder if this could be related to long-term Zyrtec use.

    I recently moved to another state, and my new allergist here wanted to retest me. I had to stop antihistamines 4 days prior to testing. Because I had read about histamine rebound with Zyrtec, I tapered it off gradually over a week. I took half a pill daily for a few days, then every other day. As soon as I cut the dose down, I started itching everywhere. My allergist suggested I take Zyrtec with Zantac to fight the itching. I tried to explain that Zyrtec was what was causing the itching. He didn’t seem to believe me.

    I have started taking Allegra, and still itching, but it is a little better every day. However, Allegra doesn’t seem to control my allergies as well as Zyrtec did. I’m going to try Claritin next.

    I’ve been off Zyrtec for nearly six weeks now. Still itching, but bearable. My tinnitus is still there too. I hope it eventually goes away.

    I am worried that if I have to take Allegra or Claritin every day, I could have withdrawal symptoms from them down the road. Has anyone out there had the same kind of itching problems when stopping Allegra and Claritin?

  11. Sabrin
    PA
    Reply

    I thought I was nuts. I, too, have tried to stop taking xyzal after taking it for over 10 years and every time I try to stop taking it I itch like crazy breaking out in hives when I never did before. and
    I am petite and have gained over 15 lbs since I have been on the medicine. It has been a steady weight gain over the years and I really believe its from this medicine. Is there any way to ever be free of taking this medicine. Every time I try to stop I feel like I can’t live without it. HELP!!!

    • T
      Chicago
      Reply

      Yes, it can happen with Claritin as well. I am dealing with that now.

  12. Lenny
    US
    Reply

    I’ve been on zyrtec for as long as I can remember. The only time I went without it was when I lived in the Philippines for 9 months, and I didn’t itch at all! Strange, right? Now I can’t go a day without taking it.. or else I’ll itch! I did cut the dose down to 1/2 a pill.. and I’ve been taking 1/2 a pill for about a year now. When I first started taking 1/2 a pill, I still had itching and little rashes on my body. But they were bearable.. now I ran out of Zyrtec, but I just got some Cetirizine from Sam’s Club.. I’m still gonna try taking 1/2 a pill of it and see how it goes. Hopefully I’ll be able to cut the dosage some more off my zyrtec.
    I’m also debating on switching to allegra.. any thoughts on that? I’ve read people switching to claritin.. But I have allegra in my house. Are there any withdrawal symptoms i should be looking out for if i switch to allegra? Thanks so much.. This sucks balls. :(

    So many people are suffering and none of the doctors are listening! I mentioned it to TWO of my doctors, and one looked at me like I was stupid and the other said she never heard of it. :(((

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