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.

Join Over 145,000 Subscribers
at The People's Pharmacy

Get our FREE daily email newsletter with breaking health news, prescription drug information, home remedies and a preview of our award-winning radio show.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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!!

  7. 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.

What Do You Think?

We invite you to share your thoughts with others, but remember that our comment section is a public forum. Please do not use your full first and last name if you want to keep details of your medical history anonymous. A first name and last initial or a pseudonym is acceptable. Advice from other commenters on this website is not a substitute for medical attention. Do not stop any medicine without checking with the prescriber. Stopping medication suddenly could result in serious harm. We expect comments to be civil in tone and language. By commenting, you agree to abide by our commenting policy and website terms & conditions. Comments that do not follow these policies will not be posted.