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!

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  1. Cheryl

    I am getting an asthma lung test tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. My respirologist instructions was to stop at the antihistamines 3 days before. So I stopped 4 days before. I’ve been using cetirizine for 10 years plus. After 24 hours of my last dose, an overwhelmong feeling came over me. I felt like my whole body was burning. My face was on fire with itch and hives. I felt nauseated.

    Today is day 4 off of cetirizine. My withdrawal symptoms are just as bad. My face feels like leather. My head and my neck is the main point of attack. As bad as my allergies were, they were never like this. I’m so thankful I know what’s going on. I will not take this poison into my body. I will continue to fight. Thanks for all your comments. It helps to know I am not alone.

  2. David

    I have launched a formal complaint with the FDA because these withdrawal symptoms are absolutely UNBEARABLE !!! Please contact me for the FDA form so that we can file a substantial number of complaints if not nothing will be done.

  3. Jenni

    I took Zyrtec daily for a little over one year for my environmental allergies, until I had to stop taking it in order to have allergy testing done. 48 hours after stopping Zyrtec I began to experience unbearable itchiness. Initially it was just in my groin, but then spread over my whole body. One moment it was my palms, then my leg, then my scalp, then my feet etc.

    Scratching would relieve it for mere moments before it either started up again or moved to another spot on my body. I did not have any sort of rash or hives. It kept me awake at night and at times was so unbearable that I felt as if I were going insane, just sitting on the couch frantically scratching one spot and then another, unable to get comfortable or relax.

    Shortly after the itchiness began I did a search online, wondering if Zyrtec could have anything to do with it (being an antihistamine), and discovered hundreds of stories of people experiencing the same thing that I was going through. It gave me some comfort, but not much as accounts of how long it lasted varied greatly. For me the worst part lasted about 6 months, and got progressively better.

    However, my body still seems to be hypersensitive to histamine. Merely getting one bug bite seems to trigger the transient generalized itching, as does close contact – at times I can barely stand physical contact with others because it triggers the itchiness all over again.

  4. Anastasia
    Livermore, CA

    I also had this reaction when I tried to stop taking Zyrtec. It was worse at night and I would itch everywhere and have awful welts in the morning. A dermatologist told me I had dermatographia, which I just took this info with a grain of salt. So I started taking the zyrtec again, thinking I just had really bad allergies. Well I am glad to know it is not severe allergies, or hives, but a withdrawal symptom. When allergy season is over, I am going to try to taper back on the medication or try something else. I thought I would be taking this forever.

    I thank you all for sharing your stories. I would’ve never known.

  5. Anna
    clinton, ms

    When I was a little child, I tool cetirizine over the counter for my pollen allergies, for several years. i started when I was three, but I recently stopped it, at age thirteen. I dont know if this is connected, but I have Barlow Syndrome (mitral valve prolapse) and it has always been under control… until I stopped taking Zyrtec.

    After a year, at age fourteen, it has continually gotten worse, and i’ve done some research and found that Zyrtec has couple of ingredients that have a calming affect on hypotension. for whatever reason that is, I believe stopping Zyrtec and having a cardiac condition was probably not the best idea.

    I started back taking it two weeks ago, still 14, and my heart rate has dropped about 45 beats a minute, now around 80, and have not had nearly the amount of complications. let this be a warning to whoever… those of you with heart conditions- if you need an allergy medication, dont take zyrtec (or anything cetirizine or levo-cetirizine based), and if you already take it, do not stop taking it.

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