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. Cyn

    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?

  2. Sabrin

    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!!!

  3. Lenny

    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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