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. Penny
    Grand Forks, ND

    Thank goodness I found this page! I thought I was going crazy! My pulmonologist learned that I had been on Zyrtec for the better part of 20 years and wants me off! Made an appointment with the allergist – who of course said to go off all meds 10-14 daysprior to appointment. 2 days off the Zyrtec and I look like I ran through barbed wire! The itch is intolerable! My arms and hands – my feet – my back and stomach. Whether I was awake or asleep – nothing seemed to help! But worse was the feeling of anxiety – I am not an anxious person – but I was beginning to feel like I was going crazy! Thankfully (really?), I called the allergist and they said to continue the meds so I can function – and they will do bloodwork to test allergies rather than skin tests. Our goal will be to get me off these monsters – but hopefully in a more controlled way.

  2. Hank

    This is pertaining to my pet with allergies in the summer. I’ve been giving him Zyrtec since March 2017 before a full blown Spring with whatever weed he’s allergic to starts driving him nuts. It gets so bad that he licks all the fur off his paws and legs as far up as he can reach to lick. Zyrtec has really helped his allergies, however when I take him off in the winter with the first snow is there anything I should expect?

  3. Serena

    Hi I am currently trying to get off of Zyrtec. I did experience the same insaine itchiness as everyone else but I was able to make it go away with 5,000 mg of Vitamin C split in divided doses during the day. I had to use Ester-C because the acidity was too much for my stomach but it did work. My only other problem is that my sinusitis flares up horribly when I stop taking it as well. I haven’t ready anything about peoples allergies flaring up worse aside from the insaine itching but this is happening to me. I am hopfully after a few weeks of high dosages of vitamin C that I can finally get off of all allergy medication. I have read of people doing this. I hope my comment at least helps the people who are stuck with insaine itching.

  4. Ruth

    I have been taking Xyzal for YEARS! I recently read it’s processed thu ur kidneys. Also got a letter from my insurance saying they won’t pay anymore as it’s now over the counter. Thought I would try stopping it. I am itching. Never gave it a thought. Thought it could be dry skin.

    I looked up “withdrawal symptoms from cyzal because I feel heaviness in my chest all day and could feel my heart pounding while trying to go to sleep. I am all congested again as well. Don’t know what to do because I have mold allergy and mold is present all year!

  5. Dick

    Been taking Zyrtec for several years. I stopped taking it 2 weeks ago and still have fits of itching every hour or so. I hope this ends soon!

  6. Gay F
    Branford, CT

    I am so relieved to read these comments. About 6 weeks ago, I had a virus which brought on hives. At first I did not take anything but when friends recommended Zyrtec because of its time release, I gave it a try. The first few weeks I took it every 2 to 3 days when the hives broke out but gradually it seemed to keep me hive free for 4-5 days.

    On the 5th day, the hives became more itchy, and intense. I thought to myself last week that maybe I was going through a withdrawal from the drug or that something weird was happening. My head one night felt like I had fire ants all over it.

    I have gone 4 days without the drug and am going to stay away from it from now on. It’s bad enough figuring out where the hives came from to begin with, never mind getting them as a withdrawal from the drug that appeared to be helping them.

  7. Michelle

    Lord help me, I can’t stop itching. I’ve taken cold showers and rubbed lotion all over my body, to no avail. I’ve taken Benadryl, Allegra, Singulair and Sudafed in an effort to stop the itch. I’ve been off of Zyrtec for a little less than a week now, and it is horrible. Before it was like clockwork. I would know exactly when it wore off as I would start itching somewhere on my body. I didn’t matter. It might be my head, my legs, my back, but somewhere, so I would take the Zyrtec, and it would go away. I ran out last week, and I haven’t been able to have any peace. The itching started with intensity last night, and I haven’t had any relief. I’ve scratched my head until it’s started to bleed. My back is red from my scratch marks, and my backside feels like it’s been bitten by ten thousand mosquitos. My husband told me he had stopped taking Zyrtec because of the withdrawal symptoms. I’ll never take it again, now I just need to get over the withdrawal symptoms.

  8. Patti

    Count me in as another Zyrtec withdrawal victim! I have been taking Zyrtec for years for seasonal and pet allergies. Since we have had a hypoallergenic pet for several years now, I decided to stop taking it. Oh my word, the itching is uncontrollable!!! I took Zyrtec every morning around the same time. Within a few hours of “missing” that first dose, I noticed itching throughout my body. By the end of the day, I couldn’t stand it and took a pill. The same thing happened 30 hours later. I realized that I needed to wean off of the Zyrtec. I have been slowly weaning myself off. I am now 5 days between doses. It has taken me months to get to this point. It’s amazing to me after 5 days that I suddenly start itching again. It’s in random places at random times. Sometimes it’s my scalp, other times, my hands or feet. I think every part of my body at some point has itched, including the inside of my ears. Ugh. In addition, I will sometimes get itchy eyes. But I can deal with that with OTC allergy eye drops or even cold compresses. But this itching is torturous!

    I’m sorry to see that so many other people are suffering like I am, but glad to know that I’m not alone and I’m not crazy! I have seen several recommendations for Quercetin while researching this phenomenon, so I think I may try that too. I would really love to get completely off of the Zyrtec. Today is Monday and the last time I took it was last Tuesday. So I’m on day 6, but I’ve been scratching like a flea bitten dog since yesterday morning. I suspect it’s going to take the better part of a year to get completely weaned off at the rate I’m going.

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