an itchy man scratching his back

Q. “I took Allegra for years, and then switched to Zyrtec (cetirizine) about seven years ago. Over the years, when I tried to stop Zyrtec, I experienced intense itching EVERYWHERE — feet, palms of hands, inside ears, throat, private areas, scalp, legs, arms, under arms — no place was immune.

I finally found this website about six months ago when there was a news article in the paper about withdrawal, and I googled “Zyrtec withdrawal”.

I have been weaning myself for six months and am almost completely Zyrtec free. I couldn’t do the cold turkey because it was publicly embarrassing. Itching would begin at hour 23 without the antihistamine in my system. I began trying to hold off as long as I could on taking the next pill. Finally got to 36 hours, then 48, 72 hours and am now up to 4.5 days between pills.

I do notice my asthma (which had disappeared for years) is recurring more often, but if it gets really bad, I take 5mg of Claritin with my inhaler and all symptoms disappear. I think I’ll be Zyrtec free within the next 30 days, and believe me, I will never take an antihistamine on a regular basis ever again!

A. You are among hundreds of other visitors to our website who have reported terrible itching or hives upon sudden discontinuation of cetirizine (Zyrtec) or other oral antihistamines. There is nothing in the medical literature nor in the FDA-sanctioned official labeling about this.

Although we have brought cetirizine withdrawal symptoms to the attention of the Food and Drug Administration, we have not received any recognition of the phenomenon nor any interest in following up with any of the people who have reported this reaction. It is almost as if the FDA would prefer this issue disappeared. The FDA executives who were notified seem to be treading water on this problem, hoping that it will sink without a trace.”

We are including a few more stories below and welcome others to share their own experience in the comment section below. Many people have also shared their success stories about getting off Zyrtec. It may differ for each individual, but many of the stories are compelling. Here are some links:

Itching from Cetirizine Withdrawal

Cetirizine (Zyrtec) Withdrawal & Unbearable Itching

Zyrtec Withdrawal Is a Nightmare

Stopping Zyrtec Triggers Itch

Anyone who would like to learn more about other ways of dealing with allergy symptoms may find our comprehensive chapter on allergy treatment in Best Choices from The People’s Pharmacy of great value.

STORIES FROM VISITORS:

“Hello. I’m from Portugal and for the last 10 years I have been addicted to Cetirizine (Zyrtec’s generic name) due to the itchy withdrawal effects.
 The itching I’ve been subjected to is unbearable, UNBEARABLE!

“Several times I tried to stop taking Cetirizine but I just couldn’t handle the horrible skin itching that seemed to get into my bones and burn my skin so eventually I had to take the pill again. For those who could overcome the addiction – you are my heroes!!

“I will write to the makers of Zyrtec and FDA to show my revolt as for the lack of listing the itching as a secondary effect and also to ask them for a solution to our problem. I beg all of you to do the same.” J.P.


“I was taking Zyrtec for about a year for allergies. I stopped taking it because…well, because it wasn’t working. Two days after my last Zyrtec dose, I started itching everywhere (really, everywhere! Even my earlobes itched). By the third day, I decided I couldn’t stand it anymore and had an idea. I was pretty certain my extreme itchiness was caused by withdrawal from the Zyrtec, which we all know is an antihistamine. So my idea was to take a different antihistamine — one that acted similar to Zyrtec but one made with a drug my body was unfamiliar with – i.e. Allegra.

“I bought a one month supply of Allegra and after taking the first dose, my itchiness was gone in two hours. I continued taking the Allegra for two weeks and then stopped without experiencing any further withdrawal symptoms.

“Perhaps the makers of Allegra should market Allegra as an antihistamine that alleviates the symptoms caused by allergies as well as an antihistamine that alleviates the symptoms of withdrawal caused by Zyrtec.”

Judy
 in San Marcos, TX


“I am currently on day 9 of Zyrtec withdrawal. The itching and hives have been absolutely unbearable. Every bit of my body has been affected throughout the days after quitting Zyrtec. Palms of hands, soles of feet, privates, scalp… you name it. I had no idea back in January of this year that Zyrtec withdrawal was causing the itching, so I took more Zyrtec. Then thankfully after reading websites like this I realized I was not alone. (Thanks to all who have posted here). There really was not much by way of over the counter creams to help the itch. Sarna cream kind of helps.

“For me extremely hot water on the site of the itch and hives helped some. By day 7 my symptoms were pretty extreme and I was in tears. I have really not been able to lead any kind of normal life for the past week. Additionally the agitation of the hives and itch and insomnia made me extremely irritable, moody, depressed. I have been through the recovery of two c-sections and wisdom teeth removal and the pain of this withdrawal has been the worst thing ever.

“Yesterday a friend convinced me to go to acupuncture. Thank goodness. Just having ear points done helped calm my system. The accupuncturist also gave me some Chinese herbs to combat the itching, hives and insomnia. I have seen some relief. I am going to continue going to acupuncture to get my body back in balance.

“Other side effects I encountered – weight gain, sensitive skin while on Zyrtec, and of course drowsiness. I am just starting to mildly feel better at day 9 of withdrawal. I am hoping that as many people have said that Day 15 is the day things start to really calm down. The days have gone by so very slowly.” F.M.


Don’t forget, if you want nondrug approaches along with other ways to deal with allergies, check out Best Choices from The People’s Pharmacy. And share your own story below.

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  1. Timothy
    Katy, TX
    Reply

    Just wanted to add another story for those who feel in doubt.

    I have food allergies specifically shellfish from the Gulf of Mexico. I could eat all the shrimp and blue crabs I wanted until about 18 yrs old when I had an anaphylactic shock incident. I attributed this to the increasing runoff of pollution into our oceans as well as the many oil accidents and dispersants we have had over the years. I can eat crabs from the Arctic (King Crab and Snow Crab) just fine without any reactions.

    Anyways Last Thanksgiving I went with family to Galveston, and we ate at a local seafood restaurant and had scallops “fresh” from the Gulf. I figured this may be a bad omen. I later had some hives so I took some Aller-tec (Costco generic of cetirizine). This is where my adventure began. The allergies would go away and then flare up every 3-4 days like clockwork. I never took note of this and wrote it off as a persistent allergy to be wary of. Well 4 months later after a whole bunch of bad personal incidents, I was still on the medication about 2 times a week trying to get off the meds. Then I got diagnosed Type 2 Diabetes. So I was double worried to get off the meds. I stopped and instantly had the night itchies hives under my armpits scratching involuntarily and waking up. Took an another pill and it went away only 2 days and same exact reaction – heavy hives.

    I swore to stop the pill and took the advice to get Quercetin / Bromelian from Now at an HEB grocery where I live. I stocked up on this the day before and got two meals following the directions to take 2 pills per meal. That night when I knew it was supposed to be wearing off I got the tell tale signs of random tingling spots all around my body and then the hives showed up but this time was only 1/3 the area as before and the intensity was WAY less enough that some cortizone max on the area was enough to ignore and sleep through. I can confirm I had the same random small hives popup for a couple days, but I took the Quercetin a couple days after to be safe and there have been little to no reactions now. I did get a cough randomly out of nowhere but I can’t be sure this wasn’t just me walking in the morning for an hour at 70 degrees with a breeze in short sleeves.

    Anyways, good luck to all out there and don’t give up – I beat it and I know you can too. Luckily I was only on it for 4 months. Also my doctor blew me off when I told him about my reactions like no one gets allergic to antihistamines. Seems I know who I am not going back to ever again as he just doesn’t listen to me about my health. They just want to push you out the door with another prescription.

    If anyone wants to know, I am off my Diabetes meds and showing normal numbers now and exercising a whole ton more as I was sedentary a few years and eating terrible.

  2. Jonas
    Australia
    Reply

    I’ve been taking Cetirizine tablets (mostly Zyrtec, but some generic equivalents as well) on a daily basis for about 2 years. I’ve been taking them mostly because they significantly reduce the severity of my Asthma, which is primarily allergy related. But they always made me feel a bit drowsy, and I’m convinced that they negatively impacted both my mental agility and my hand-eye coordination, which I eventually decided that I didn’t want to tolerate anymore.

    So in consultation with both my GP and my Pharmacist I devised an alternative treatment regime which consisted of more consistent preventative Symbicort Inhaler doses (also used as a rescuer on occasion), Ventolin (used in preference to Symbicort as a rescuer since it’s mostly more effective for me for that purpose), Dymista nasal spray (which contains a corticosteroid _and_ an antihistamine), and Zaditen eye drops (only as needed). This can be quite the daily routine sometimes, but for me it is ultimately preferable to feeling like a somewhat spaced out lesser version of myself. I’m less forgetful, more switched on, and I can play my guitars again at a skill level that I thought I had lost because I was “getting old”.

    So suffice it to say that I don’t like Zyrtec anymore either.

    That said I don’t believe I experienced any withdrawal symptoms whatsoever, though I know from experience that I would have felt pretty damned horrible if I had not taken alternative allergy treatment measures to deal with the problems that prompted me to start taking Zyrtec in the first place. My intention here is not to call into question anyone else’s experiences, I just felt inclined to chime in to report that Zyrtec withdrawal does not appear to be a universal problem. For what it’s worth.

  3. Lena
    Baltimore, Md
    Reply

    Thank you all for sharing. I thought I was going crazy with my itching and hives popping up everywhere! I used to take Claritin (began making my heart race) then Allegra and was told by my allergist to switch to Zyrtec when I had a very bad case of hives. Ever since then (about three years ago) whenever winter came, I would attempt to stop taking it. I attributed the itch and patches of hives to dry skin, cleansers, lotions, and even thinking I began to be allergic to my pets. I would always go without for a few days then start taking it again as the itching was unbearable. I wish now that I had just stopped and discontinued the first year as each year seems to be worse when I attempt. I am going to take some Benadryl tonight and pick up some Allegra as some have recommended. Zyrtec has really helped my allergy flair-ups but something that causes this much reaction when you stop taking it for two days should have a warning (and something that an allergist should be aware of before suggesting!)

  4. Wes
    Ontario, Canada
    Reply

    Something needs to be done about this!!! It’s CRAZY. Here is my story, copied from a facebook post I made yesterday; after finding this and many other articles/sites.

    “For a couple years now, I’ve been thinking I had some kind of skin allergy, reaction to medications/supplements I’ve taken, effects from other KNOWN health issues, or even worrying about underlying UNknown health issues. Until I stumbled across the Google search term “Zyrtec (Cetirizine) Withdrawl”.

    I bought a package of Member’s Mark (Sam’s Club) Zyrtec for my seasonal allergies a few years ago. Of course, being Sam’s club, this was a few YEAR’S supply. In hindsight, right around every winter, I would start getting random, intense itching on random, otherwise unaffected areas of my body… my feet, my legs, my hands, my fingers, ears, scalp, etc. It could be a patch as small as between my knuckles on a single finger, to my entire calf, shin, ankle, and foot. It would (does) keep me up at night. It would make me scratch until I left significant marks (some of which became scars) on myself… yet I STILL coulnd’t NOT scratch it. It was embarassing, it was a nuisance, and – especially just for some itchy skin – it affected my life quite a lot.

    I stopped using dryer sheets and fabric softener, I tried all different types of detergents; no change. I tried different body soaps and washes; no change. I tried everything from cortisone cream, to skin moisturizers, to Coconut oil to “medicated” talcum powders; no change. I even saw my Doctor about it a few times. No remedies.

    The only thing that seemed to help – in a last ditch effort one day earlier this year – was getting back on my allergy medication. The strange thing was that as soon as that 24 hour mark (when it would be time for another dose) would start to creep up – right around 20 hours or so – I would start to get this INTENSE itching again!! So, I just kept taking the allergy meds in order to help it subside.

    Then… Today… I start finding articles like this. And now that I think about it… IT’S TRUE!! My ALLERGY MEDS are what’s been driving me CRAZY all along!!! WTF!!!”

  5. Sally
    Mi
    Reply

    I was on daily Claritin for 2 years went to allergy Dr and he told me to take Zyrtec instead which I did for three years. Last week I decided to stop and only take as needed in allergy season. Well I’m miserable with itching everywhere. I’m going to try the Allegra for 2 weeks and go off that and see if itchy feeling will be gone. Also bought vitamin C as I saw mentioned in someone’s blog.

  6. L
    Milwaukee, WI
    Reply

    I am so relieved to see that I’m not the only person who has experienced unbearable itching upon stopping generic Zyrtec. I don’t want to ever take it again, reminds me of a terrible case of poison ivy I had. Yuk.

  7. Claudia
    Colorado
    Reply

    I’m so thankful for this site. My doctor advised me to take Zyrtec everyday for severe allergies. I’ve been taking Zyrtec for 7 months. I went out of town a few weeks ago and didn’t have my Zyrtec. I didn’t have any allergy symptoms but had SEVERE itching after 3 days. I thought I was having an allergic reaction to something so I bought Zyrtec and took one. The itching stopped. I was suspicious so I stopped again. My allergies are horrible but the itching is the worst. I’m on day 4 of no Zyrtec. I can’t believe this isn’t a huge warning for this and that doctor’s aren’t waking up to the dangers of long term use and withdrawal.

  8. Jim
    Fitchburg, MA
    Reply

    I was put on cetirizine daily over 4 years ago. The doctor ordered it for rapid fire sneezing year round. Along with other medications I have developed horrible dry mouth, so a different Dr. told me to discontinue the cetirizine. The second day off I had strange itching all over. It went hard to my groin and now it’s my back and feet. I woke up the other night with horrible itching on the lower front of my calfs. I have never experienced this in my life (an old man now) and I came to the net looking to see if it could be the cetirizine. I guess I have my answer.

  9. Dee
    Canada
    Reply

    I too am Portuguese and experience this withdrawal symptom. Mostly in my knuckles at first. I would suggest weaning off the drug instead of cutting off cold turkey as you will get a rebound effect. Usually worse at night.

    When it’s time to come off, I wean the dose ( half pill) and then prolong the time between doses. If my hand get too itchy I just note the time and take the smaller dose which most often does the trick. Your body needs to re-regulate itself. Cetirizine is an amazing drug and not sure I would be here today without it but you do need to be careful coming off.

    I agree there should be a warning and pharmacists should be educating their patients on the matter if they aren’t already.

  10. Christine
    Grass Valley, CA
    Reply

    I was going in to Dr. for a allergy skin test so I needed stop taking Zyrtec. I had been taking it almost daily for several years, all year round. I’m discovering by reading this that the reason I couldn’t stop for more than a couple of days was because I would begin itching so I thought I needed to get back on the Zyrtec.

    For the first few days, it was the palms of my hand and then moved to my feet and eventually everywhere. Felt like itching and skin prickling on my arms, fingers, privates, scalp, it has been awful. I will not go back on Zyrtec and I am happy to see people didn’t experience the same withdrawal with Allegra or Claritin. If my allergies get really bad I may try those but I’m wanting to take something natural.

    I’m currently taking an herbal supplement that has Quercetin, Bromelian, and Vitamin C, and Magnesium, been taking for about a week and it does seem to help. Also drinking a tea that has stinging nettle. It’s been 11 days and it is not done yet. Not constant but flares up.

    Hope two weeks is a magic number! I was so glad to find that other people had experienced something similar and shared what worked for them.

  11. Michael
    Lexington SC
    Reply

    I’ve been taking Allegra for 10 years and stopped for allergy testing. I’m having moderate itching all over as well as some joint inflammation. Most of the posts here are about Zyrtec but I can tell you Allegra will cause similar symptoms.

  12. Kathy
    PA
    Reply

    I have taken Zyrtec for about 4 years and decided to see what nasal spray I should take in conjunction with it. I discovered that I should probably just take the nasal spray so I stopped Zyrtec about a week ago. If I had missed a dose before I noticed that the palms of my hands itched.

    I thought it was because I was allergic to something. Now the tops of my feet, my shins, my forearms, palms and scalp take turns itching. Maybe I’ll take a benadryl for a few days and see if that helps. It’s not terrible all the time but it sure is annoying and I see no end yet. This site has been very informative.

  13. JP
    MD
    Reply

    FIX FOR ZYRTEK WITHDRAWAL!!!

    I wanted to share some thoughts on this since I have had exactly the same experience as many people who have posted here. Initially took Zyrtek for pollen allergies and would stop for the rest of the year. However noticed I was getting itchy hives at times throughout the year and eventually started taking it year round for 6-7 years. Initially chose Zytek instead of Claritin as I found it more effective at reducing my symptoms, and it helped me sleep at night.

    Upon realizing that I didn’t want to be so dependent on zyrtek, I tried to stop taking it but was never able to stop without dreadful itching all over the body. The answer for me was simply to switch from zyrtek to claritin for 2-3 weeks. Claritin dealt with the zyrtek withdrawal as this is an antihistamine also but works via a different mechanism presumably. I stopped taking claritin after about 2-3 weeks and waited anxiously to see if any symptoms would return. They didn’t! I get very infrequent itching now which is the same as it was before taking any kind of antihistamine. For the pollen season, I only take Claritin for a couple of months a year without the worry of any withdrawal after stopping it.

    Hoping that others will try this and have similar success!

  14. Mary
    TN
    Reply

    Had allergy testing & told by Dr to take Zyrtec & Nasacort spray. Had been on Zyrtec for 3 weeks & had to come off for some other allergy testing. Started itching terribly the day I came off of it. 3 days later I had my allergy testing & discussed the itching with the Dr. She said it was probably from stopping the Zyrtec. She suggested I try using Allegra instead, but didn’t offer any solutions for the itching. After 2 more days of itching my husband gave me some of his prednisone he uses for asthma to try to help me get some relief. The day after I started the prednisone I started getting relief. I took half the prednisone each day- 20mg, 10mg, 5mg, 2mg. I have been off the prednisone for a little over a day & it feels like some itching is starting back. This is awful!!

  15. Jill
    PA
    Reply

    I have sensitive skin and I got hives after using a face cream. Dr gave me s shot and told me to started taking Zyrtec for that and seasonal allergies. When I tried to stop cold turkey I would get itchy. Thinking it was allergies I stayed on it for a few years until I ran out 10 days ago. At first my scalp itched then my back. Then when my underarms and eyebrows itches to I discovered this blog. I’m glad for this blog. Now I know what it is I have taken warm baths with 2 cups of Epsom salts and 1 cup baking soda instead of showers and the itching is now greatly reduced.

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