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. Jenn

    Wanted to share–High doses of vitamin C help!! I have been off cetirizine for 72 hours; the first day (morning after stopping taking my nightly 10mg dose, in prep for an upcoming allergy test), had such dizziness and nausea. Was hoping to escape the itching but today, almost three days after, the patches of burning itching suddenly showed up, on my palms, on my toes and feet, shins, wrists.

    I’ve had some mild itching in various places of my torso, Rick, scalp off and on but not like this. I took 800mg of vitamin c and within 15-20 minutes it has subsided almost completely. Also took a high dose of vit c and vit D that first morning after, when I found all these similar stories about withdrawal symptoms, after looking up if dizziness and nausea were related, and it made a remarkable difference.

    Also taking a magnesium supplement and waiting for a quercetine supplement to arrive. I had taken cetirizine for about three months until three nights ago. I had NO idea how it had been affecting me! Not until those first 24 hours off and I finally felt like myself again, no longer disconnect or numb. My blood pressure had sky rocketed in the last three months, so my dr added another med, my heart was palpitating so much she ordered a heart echo (ultrasound), which came back totally normal.

    Leg pains, swollen joints, little appetite. I have felt incredibly anxious but emotionally disconnected and unable to process my anxieties so they’ve just been compounding and I have started to feel crazy; dr was wanting to prescribe an anxiety med as well! I have had no sex drive these last couple months; felt no joy, not unhappy but just nothing, having to force myself to smile at my kids…until that first day off, within 12-18 hrs, and lots of vitamin c and I suddenly felt like who I know I am.

    My husband is really unhappy about this drug and like so many other comments here, wondering why there is no literature on these side effects and withdrawal symptoms. It’s so disruptive to life. You can see how the drugs start to compound until you don’t know what to do anymore. What a sham/e.

  2. John

    Long post here, but I wanted the share my story with you people.

    After taking the Zyrtec for the first time in my life in 2006, I had an immediate major decrease of volume of my hives : it was a God damn miracle! I continued to take Zyrtec regularely every 24 hours : a small dose of 5 mg. My family and friends noticed the drastic changes but I NEVER EXPERIENCED ITCHINESS like I do today.

    Still in 2006 after a couple of months of daily Zyrtec intake, I once forgot to take my regular cycle dose and experienced strong itchiness. The first time ever in my life! I’ve never had this before and believed that something I ate (allergy?) was the problem. The only thing I did to respond to the itching was to take ANOTHER Zyrtec. After 15 minutes, BAM! The itching is completly gone.

    I HAD to take it regularly then! I stabilised my dosage intake to 5mg every 48 hours. The intake was extremly regular like an alarm clock. I became really used to it. I knew and felt exactly when I needed to take Zyrtec.

    In 2010, four year after using the drug, I realised that I became dependant to Zyrtec and decided to make an experimentation. I went cold turkey, completly stoped the drug, gathered all my will, my soul and decided to hold as LONG as I could without taking it.

    48-60 hours : Itching is regular and constant. But I am fighting it hard and barely manage to get asleep. Itching 5/10 to 6/10

    60-72 hours : Itching is MAJOR. It’s painfull! There’s not a part of my body that wont stop itching. I’m unable to rest but I can keep myself distracted for a limited time.
    Itching 8/10 + Pain 5/10

    72-84 hours : Hell. I feel like my whole skin is not part of my body anymore. It’s like hundreds of mosquitoes biting you at the same time but you can’t do anything! The itchiness comes from inside and NEVER STOP. Anger, pain and severe distress. I can’t even stay still on a chair without literally peeling myself off. My itching is so BAD that I would gladly throw myself off a bridge and terminate myself.
    Itching 10/10 + Pain 8/10

    86 hours : my personal record after surrendering to the itching.
    I take a 5 mg oral pill of glorious Zyrtec! 15 minutes and ITS GONE… Wow!

    I don’t know how some people are able to go cold turkey. I can’t tolerate the itchness-pain-hybrid-hell that I experience after 3 days. Unfortunately, it becomes pure pain for me. It’s unbearable!
    Even thought my doctor told me that this drug does not create a dependance, still today, I can’t stop using Zyrtec.

    Remember, I had no allergies or other sensitivity prior to this. A dermographic skin but no extreme itching. Maybe I developped another condition during those years? Auto-Immune disease? Other allergies? Dust mites? Histamine intolerance?

    I have tried many food restrictions for month and experienced no difference. I even tried to PROVOKE it with extremely high histamine food but no! 48 hours. Yes! 48 hours…
    The itchiness clock sounds every 48 hours. No matter what!

    I stumble upon this website the other day and couldn’t believe it! I was not alone!

    I have been diminishing my ZyrJunk intake for months! Today, I chop the smallest micro bite (maybe 1.25 mg or less!) with my front teeth. The itchiness is still bad and I have to ABSOLUTELY retake it after 24 hours.

    Of course, I am consistently reporting my physical symptom like a total junk recovery addict. Today, the dose is ridiculous and minimal but the symptoms are persistent. Patience!

    Running with less of 40% of my past cycle dose during the last weeks, I have managed to control the symptoms slowly but steadily. With precise monitoring I confirm that it is fading away… I plan on diminishing it as long as needed and as methodicly as I can : to choping fractions of milligrams, to licking micrograms then to nirvana over the next weeks.
    I am no doctor, please note for those of you that can’t handle the Zyrtec withdrawal or plan on stoping using it : seek professional & competent medical help. I suggest being tested for allergies and having complete blood tests to eliminate other variables. Again, I am no doctor but you should at least get an appointement with an open-minded allergist specialist or dermatologist that offer other professionnal alternatives than : ”Why don’t you just keep taking Zyrtec for all your life?!”

  3. Leanne

    I took Zyrtec Aug-Feb for my fall allergies. I decided allergy season was over and I discontinued. I started itching, just a bit but after about 4 days I peaked and thought I might have to go to the ER. I took a cool shower and a benedryl and 2 days later only sporadic itching. Zyrtec works great for my allergies but the withdrawl is horrible. I am going to research alternative allergy remedies.

  4. Jan

    This was a very helpful site! Thank you for the public forum of sharing. At least I know I’m not alone in the symptoms I am experiencing from going off Zyrtec “cold turkey” at the request of my allergist (for purposes of retest). I am hoping beyond all else that my symptoms do not worsen. Thus far, tearing itchy eyes, runny nose, fatigue, nausea, chest pain, shortness of breath, raspy voice, constant yawning, and anxiety are all on my list! Who knew?!

  5. Steve

    I was thinking I was crazy, but now either we are all crazy or there is something here. I started taking Zyrtec (OTC) for seasonal allergies a few years back and have not been able to stop due to the terrible itching that begins on about day 2-3. I thought it was something I had done, like changing laundry soap/shampoo or something, but I have stepped back to the same I was using prior to taking Zyrtec. The itching gets unbearable, but I do not have visible signs. The itching in the palms is some of the worst.

  6. Snuffles

    I started on Zirtek (UK) about 20 yrs ago as I was having repeated attacks of urticaria (which I now believe was due to perimenopause .. but that’s another story!)

    Last year I was having trouble with hayfever and decided to try swapping to Loratadine to see if it would help. It did seem to help the nasal symptoms but oh boy the itching – no rash or anything but just a deep seated tortuous itch. As soon as I went back onto the Cetirizine all was well again. I have spoken to an allergist and his best advice was that as I’m now in my 60s “just stay on it for the rest of your life”.

  7. Charles

    I decided to get off Zyrtec in November 2016 after being on it for at least 15 years. I started cold turkey after gaining knowledge of the side affects. It was pure hell as the detox gave me anxiety attacks, could not sleep, loss lot of weight as my appetite went to hell. I have been off for a good three months and doing good. I am winning this battle with God’s help. He has been my detox medicine. I cried out to him and he heard my plea.

  8. WindyCity

    I have been suffering extremely itchy hands and feet since I stopped taking Zyrtec for seasonal allergies and tolterodine tartrate for “overactive badder” after I read in the People’s Pharmacy and other places about a possible link with Alzheimers from these drugs. That was 9 months ago. I have made the rounds of a dermatologist, endocrinologist, and vascular specialist. My primary care doctor has had blood tests done. I am next to see a rheumatologist, and then an allergist, but in my city, the waiting list for these specialties is nearly a year–so I suffer. A Zyrtec every other day has kept my symptoms bearable, but after reading some of these stories, I am going to try to abandon Zyrtec altogether. I will try a vegetarian diet high in Quercetin, and Allegra if itching is unbearable. Meanwhile, what can we all do to try to get some research going on this? Who can we lobby? What medical specialty would deal with this issue? Why have none of the doctors I have seen so far thought of this possibility?

    • John

      I totally relate to you!

  9. Shelley

    I’m so glad I found this site! I am on day 10 without Zyrtec and the itching is ridiculous! Mostly the palms of my hands but today it has started traveling. I had been taking Zyrtec for 15+ years and decided it was time to be done. I’m going to stick this out and hope I’m at this is the worst of the withdrawal and I’ll be on the downhill slide soon! The bad thing is our vet put our dog on it several months ago so I’m afraid he’s going to have the same problem. I think we might have to gradually wean him off.

  10. Michael

    How stupid was I to just decide to go off Zyrtec. BIG NO NO! My story is similar to others on this site. Stopped Zyrtec cold turkey, thinking maybe I should go off the medication for a while. I live in Minnesota. It’s winter. So figured allergy season is a number of months off. BIG MISTAKE. My arms exploded with itching and red rash, bumps. Also it seemed like my face was breaking out more. Though there was no itching on my face. Rather than go back on Zyrtec, I just thought to take a stronger anti-histamine. So I took Chlor-Trimeton (chlorpheniramine maleate). It was effective in quieting the itching. But the rash, bumps and soars persisted on my arms. Went to a dermatologist. He gave me prescription strength steroid cream. That helped too. But what a nightmare. Now I’m back on Zyrtec. Still getting little itching flares. But at least under control. My allergy doctor confirmed this “Zyrtec withdrawal” symptom. She said it is unexplained. But said to just stay on Zyrtec. It’s the safest of all the antihistamines. Just stay on it.

  11. Margaux
    St. Louis, MO

    Well it’s happened to me too. I have been a long term user of Zyrtec. I’ve even gone off it successfully once before when I was breastfeeding my daugher. Eventually I went back on it for my allergies. I then realized how groggy it was making me in the mornings and thought I’d try Allegra instead. Right after the switch I noticed the worst itching in my private area I’ve ever had. I went to the OBGYN and he thought it was a yeast infection (though I had no discarge). After 5 rounds of diflucan I still had no relief. I took to google and saw these posts. On a whim I decided switching back to Zyrtec. Sure enough! The itching subsided. (Mind you I NEVER had skin conditions as a result of my allergies in the past – my allergic symptoms were sneezing, runny nose etc) So after the itching went away I tried titrating my dose down. I was doing OK. Then I went from taking 1/2 pill every third day to nothing then ITCHING! I’ve been itching (no hives) in random places all over my body for 6 months now. Taking Allegra and Claritin did nothing for the itching. Topical cortisone did nothing. The only thing that gets rid of the itching for me is Zantac. (A friend who suffers from awful hives suggested the remedy.) It works! BUT, Zantac is a antihistamine. HAHAHA! Will I EVER be free of anti-histamines? I keep trying to go off the Zantac and the itching and comes back as does a new symptom –heartburn. I never had a problem with heartburn before all this… What a mess. I wonder of dosing my system with oral steroids will get my immune system reset. Has anybody had any results with steroids? My doctors keep looking at me like I’m insane when I tell them about this.

  12. Chelsea
    United States

    Please please do NOT use topical steroids (hydrocortisone)! My 5 yr old daughter is going through topical steroid withdrawal now and its been hell. Look up ITSAN.ORG for more info. She is still withdrawing at 21 months from stopping the topical steroids. The effects of the topical steroids are horrendous.

  13. Pat

    I was put on Zyrtec 24 years ago for chronic hives. It worked, never missing a day. Long story, short, I stopped taking it because I am currently on so many medications from being diagnosed with RA, FM, sle lupus. Strange sensations have been occurring for the last few months and I am now starting to think maybe it is because I stopped taking Zyrtec. Anyone get or heard of strange bouts a few times a day of the body starting to feel warm like getting a fever along with the feeling of something is wrong, like I’m coming down sick, or get fatigued/drained and have to lay down? It will last 5-10 or so min. Then most times I will get chilled. I take my temperature And it is below normal when I am feeling like I have a fever. Also my blood pressure started getting so high. I dI’d have controlled hbp before. I ended up in the er with a BP of 237/117. While in the er I had one of these “episodes”. My pulse rate dropped to 47 and the alarms went off. As soon as the fever sensation went away my pulse rate returned to 69. They was not concerned about the rate drop. Anyone experience this?

  14. maria

    I have been taking Zyrtec for one year. I needed allergy testing, and my doctor said I needed to stop the medicine for five days. On day one, my nose was runny and my eyes itched. From then on it was a nightmare. I looked like a druggie going through withdrawal. The doctor prescribed it and recommended it in a way that made me feel it was harmless. Tomorrow I go in for the testing, and I will definitely seek alternatives. This whole situation has scared me. I just pray I recover fully.

    • Jan

      YES! I had the very same thing happen last Saturday night! Stopped Zyrtec because of allergy re-test coming up in 10 days, and you have to be off that long so test will turn out correctly. So after stopping on Friday, Saturday night my BP went to 199/104!, and I had the very same sensation of the warmth all over my body; didn’t feel right and became instantly nauseous feeling like I was going to throw up! (never did). I took a nausea pill and that subsided, but anxiety, depression, and tight chest are all lingering! I’ve got another 7 days to go – Lord help me! But I’m so happy to have seen this and know I’m not alone!!!

    • karen

      Yes similar! Because of the warmth feeling and not feeling well I am not sleeping well either… Had no idea this could happen. Thank you for your sharing…K

    • Jenn

      My blood pressure has been escalating “inexplicably” in the last 3 months since I was put on cetirizine. I stopped taking it last night bc of an allergist appt next week and found this site and these posts because of the sudden headache, nausea, and dizziness.

  15. Diane

    I’ve been taking Zyrtec D for about 10 years. I have tried to taper off because I really want to be off this medicine, but, every time I do, within 36 hours, I have severe anxiety, my heart starts pounding, I feel as though I can’t breathe, and then, the itching starts. I then give in and take another Zyrtec D and within minutes, I get relief. I have no idea how to get off this medicine. Perhaps I need a detox facility…might Allegra D help? Wouldn’t that be replacing one drug for the other?

  16. Steven

    I’ve been taking zyrtec for almost 4 years now. It helps with my allergies so I kept taking it. I stopped taking it for a few days now, because I kept forgetting to get more. Now I’ve just been itching like crazy and it’s driving me insane

  17. j-girl

    I have a pulmonary condition long story short… had to take every type of antihistamine possible and finally was able to stop them all… and STOMACH ACID OVERPRODUCTION AND CRAMPS is all i can say right now…. I cannot seem to survive the withdrawals…. it feels like I have an ulcer in my stomach now….. but I am assuming this is all just antihistamine withdrawal issues…. just warning people and/or hopefully helping someone not feel like their crazy for feeling this way…. and yes I relate to all the other people about the headaches and itchiness… but for me the STOMACH ISSUES from WITHDRAWAL of these antihistamines are what are crippling me…. I’m trying to half the zyrtec at night so I do not keel over in extreme stomach pain and or nausea …

    • Martha

      Yes, everytime I try to stop, I have severe nausea. Not sure what it is but it is concerning. I feel fine as long as I take it. They say it is safe but not so sure.

  18. jh

    I think I posted this comment on the wrong page (oops) but if the site will let me, I will also post this here: I have found two things that help me get past the terrible itching in hands and feet from Zyrtec withdrawal.

    1. Hydrocortisone (topical) – I was so desperate I stole some of my cat’s “hot spot” spray. It worked.

    2. Hand-held vibrating massager – numbs the nervous system.

    I should also add, hot showers also help me.

  19. Stacy

    I have been on Zyrtec for 34 years. If I miss a dose my body starts experiencing intense allergic reactions. I’ve started to have food sensitivities for the last 5 years. They have been increasing in number of foods and intensity. My mouth would swell when I would eat something I am sensitive to and then I would start having excessive urination. I would start getting dehydrated and my body would hurt everywhere and cramp up. I felt like I had systemic inflammation. I talked to a acupuncturist. He thinks the prolonged use of zyrtec drove my allergies deep into my body until it couldn’t contain it anymore and my body is becoming inflamed from the suppression of histamines that is driving my allergies deeper and more systemic.

  20. Joe

    Just wanted to say to anyone quitting: it took about 4-5 weeks but the symptoms do eventually go away! Hang in there!

  21. Ryan

    I was taking it for only a couple of months and had no issues while taking it. I took it to create a good sleep sqedual. When I stopped I began having horrid nightmares that redefined what fear realy is for me and I couldent tell I was dreaming nor could I wake up. I have resumed taking it because how awful these dreams where. The English language can not describe how these effected me. Not worth quitting.

    • Marilyn

      Thanks for this info, wondered how long I was going to itch. Marilyn

  22. Heather

    I stopped taking zyrtec on Friday, October 28th. I have an upcoming re-test of my allergies and I can’t be on any medication. Saturday, I got the worst headache I have ever had in my life. Nothing was helping. I started with ibuprofen, which normally helps. That didn’t help so I alternated between acetaminophen and ibuprofen. It was about 24 hours later that it finally started to go away. Unfortunately, it didn’t completely go away. Then the itching started. I can’t stop itching for a second. I am tearing the skin right off of my body. It’s day 4 and I don’t test until this Friday. I don’t know if I will have any skin left. Has anyone tried anything that helps with the itching? I am definitely not going back on Zyrtec. This is too painful. I will be reporting this to my doctor and make sure I tell everyone I know not to every use this medicine.

    • Shelly
      Rhode Island

      I’ve been taking Zyrtec for over 10 years. I stopped because it’s winter and I was out and figured why take something I may not need. Slight itching at bedtime, can’t fall asleep, headache, achey, my gerd is worse, feel horrible! I’ll try somebody do the ideas ive read. Hope something helps!

  23. Samantha

    I can’t believe this is happing my 9 year old has been taking this medicine a long time and I’m thinking that maybe he needs to be put on a different allergy cuz he is allergic to of all things dust so the doctor said he needs it all year so just after reading this I may just have to switch anyone have a med that is good for the allergys

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