Young woman's back with allergy skin problem

Every so often, doctors discover something from their own experience as patients that they didn’t learn in medical school and haven’t heard from their colleagues. Often, the symptoms of withdrawal from common medications may fit this description. Who knew that suddenly quitting an OTC antihistamine could result in unbelievable itching?

Stopping Cetirizine Produces Unbelievable Itching:

Q. As a doctor with 35 years in practice, I did not realize withdrawal from the antihistamine cetirizine caused severe itching until I had the problem myself.

I have been taking cetirizine for more than three years. Like many others, I experienced severe itching and hives all over my body when I stopped taking it.

One tablet would cover 36 hours free of symptoms. However, if I missed taking it right before the time limit, my skin started itching and hives would develop. I tried to wean off it three times, but failed due to unbelievable itching. My lips and eyelids swelled too. I am afraid my epiglottis or throat might swell some day so that I could not breathe.

I checked the medical literature and found, to my surprise, there are no reports of cetirizine withdrawal symptoms. Doctors should know about this.

No Information on This Withdrawal Symptom:

A. We have received hundreds of reports of unbearable itching resulting from sudden discontinuation of the allergy drug cetirizine (Zyrtec). We have alerted the FDA about this reaction, but as far as we know no such warnings have been issued.

The main source of information for doctors is the FDA-approved Prescribing Information (PI, which could also stand for package insert). These are published in the Physicians Desk Reference, and they are also available online at DailyMed.gov.

We were never able to find mention of a withdrawal syndrome in the prescribing information when Zyrtec was still a prescription product. As an OTC drug, it carries very limited safety information. People rarely anticipate difficulty stopping a nonprescription pill.

Many People Suffer Unbelievable Itching When They Stop Cetirizine:

Nonetheless, so many visitors to this site have reported similar problems that there is little doubt cetirizine withdrawal itch is a common problem. Some who have stuck it out have reported that the itching fades after six to eight weeks. That is a long time to endure severe itching and hives, but it may be worth consideration.

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  1. Lani
    Madison, WI
    Reply

    I’ve had some of the same crazy itching on days I’ve forgotten to take my Allegra….which I’d really like to stop taking…

  2. Claire
    Ohio
    Reply

    Add me to the list! I have been taking Claritin since mid-April for seasonal allergies. It’s been a rough allergy season for all, and since I have both spring and fall allergies I decided to take one tablet every day out of precaution. I noticed I was getting sore throats and had a dry mouth towards the beginning of July, and my dentist recommended trying to wean off any allergy medications since it can lead to these issues.

    I started taking it only when the pollen count was high, and now not at all. I noticed I was extremely itchy starting a week or two ago on my thighs, scalp, chest, neck and shoulders in the late afternoon and into evening, and couldn’t figure out what was wrong!

    This makes total sense to me now that I have read about it, and I was shocked to have such a reaction to something that was supposed to help me with allergies, not hurt me. The sore throat and dry mouth have gone away (yay!) but the itching is awful. I’ve been using lotion to soothe my skin, but the red, itchy late afternoon spots just aren’t going away. Ugh.

  3. Cat
    AZ
    Reply

    Well, add me to the list too! I have been taking Zrytec for as long as it has been on the market I think. First as a prescription drug then as an OTC later. Last week I thought,” Why am I taking this everyday, that doesn’t seem right”. as I am trying to clean up my life styles and habits.

    I figured it would be no big deal but Boy was I wrong! We need to get someone to admit to the unbelievable itching that occurs when you stop. I thought my eyelids were going to bleed I have scratched them so hard. My whole face has itched, along with my body but the eyelid and face itching is insane!

    I broke down and took a pill this morning because I couldn’t take it anymore but I will be attempting to wean off them now, instead of cold turkey. This needs to be in the literature for sure!!!

  4. Nicole
    Virginia
    Reply

    YES! Thank goodness this is here for people to confirm they’re not crazy. I’ll be honest, one of the first things I thought was how grateful I am I’m only trying to kick an antihistamine and I took back any bad thought I’ve ever had about an addict of any other drug trying to kick the habit. One of my doctors recommended first cutting the pill in half but continuing to take it daily. After a couple of weeks, move to 1/2 pill and take 2 days, off 1, take 2 days off 1, etc. After a couple more weeks, move to 1/2 pill every other day until you just stop. I tried cold turkey and the itching was far more severe. I’m doing the weaning method now and it’s better but definitely still there.

  5. Jennifer
    Virginia
    Reply

    I am on 8 different medications for differing health problems. Most of them I have been on for 20 years or more. I have been on antihistamines since I was a little kid. Now that I am in my 40s, they don’t seem to be very effective. I am also starting to notice some serious memory/processing issues…which is a big deal to me because I consider myself to have been an intelligent person at some point. I would ask my doctors and was always told that “it’s just a part of aging,” “you’re depressed,” “you’re under a lot of stress.” After talking with my dad, a former nurse practitioner, about my list of rxs and side effects, I was alarmed that it was most likely my medications. He told me about something called a Beers List and after looking at it, most of the meds I take are on there. Not once has anyone taken my complaints/concerns seriously. Anyway, as a result, I have tried to come off of Xyzal (a cousin of Zyrtec). I’ve had to come off before for allergy testing and experienced the insane itching about 3 days in. This time, I’m trying to come off of it for good…I didn’t realize it could be 2 months before this stops…it’s only been 2 weeks and I’m scratching like a bear!

    I’m not sure that these side effects are widely known. I was a pharmacy tech for 20 years and not once did anyone tell me that my medicines should be reevaluated. If you think something is off, talk to your doctor and stick up for yourself. I really wish I had.

  6. Robert M
    CA
    Reply

    I feel for all of you experiencing this horrible reaction from the withdrawal of antihistamines. I too, have experienced this when seeing a Dr. at 60 years of age for what I thought was an ongoing illness of cold, cough, sneezing, achy bones, lack of energy and at times, what I thought was a temperature. Those that do not have allergies can’t relate to how one can feel like they have the flu when affected with allergies.
    He looked in my nasal passages and said ” you have allergies as your passages are red and inflamed “. He told me to take Zyrtec in the morning and Benadryl at night. From the first dosage I felt better and had NEVER slept as well than I did when taking Benadryl.
    After 4 months of allergy free symptoms, I decided I did not want to keep taking this medications as I can’t imagine they are good for your body. As soon as I stopped, the itching and hives started. It was miserable so Googled this situation and found out about the Zyrtec withdrawal syndrome. There are NO warnings about this withdrawal and I spoke with my new Dr. about this and she had no clue and thought I just was allergic to Zyrtec and made note on my chart. What a joke and what a scam from this manufacturer as I called to complain, they said “oh, we’ve never heard about this ” I call BS !
    I ended up using advice from all those that went before us in regards to withdrawal and started taking more C, adding a Quercetin dosage and after 6 months of itching, it finally stopped. Fast forward to the next allergy attack after many months and decided instead of taking it all the time, I would try to do it only when the symptoms hit. I took Zytec for a few days then stopped ………..and the nightmare began all over again. It took me 7 MONTHS this time to get over the unbearable itching and hives and have sworn I would never take it again.
    SO, after being allergy free for over a year, here I am with allergies feeling like crap and not sure what to do ? I have continued with the extra vitamin C and Quercetin as part of a daily regime and was totally allergy free until this week. I just looked up ‘natural antihistamines and found a few options like Butterbur but not sure how effective they are.
    Anyone have some new information to alleviate the suffering ?

    Good luck to all that are dealing with allergies and their withdrawals from antihistamines !

  7. Tracey
    Pasadena, California
    Reply

    Adding to the conversation, I am having the SAME problem with Benadryl!! After learning that antihistamines also contribute to DEMENTIA, I tried stopping it cold turkey, but have horrible scalp itching. So I am going to try weaning off slowly. Thank you to the commenter who suggested acupuncture. The more I learn about the true nature of the drug companies, the MORE DETERMINED I am to STOP buying what they are pedaling!!!

  8. Heather
    Georgia
    Reply

    I quit taking Claritin a couple of weeks ago, and OH, MY HEAVENS, the itching… I can barely type this out. I was not warned of this. I am now worried about my 8 yr old daughter who is also on it. When the time comes for her to come off, I don’t want her to go through this because this is complete and utter torture!! I hope it goes away soon!!!

  9. Martha
    USA
    Reply

    I have an appt next week for allergy testing and was told to stop taking my long-term antihistamine a week before. No one mentioned the effects of his abrupt withdrawal and I’m really hating it. Anything I would normally take to relieve the itching is also on the “don’t take before the testing” list. This sucks. I’m hoping not to start taking this med again but am discouraged about the 7-8 weeks people are saying this lasts. At least after the tests I can take something occasionally for relief.

  10. Dustin
    Missouri
    Reply

    I have been taking generic Zyrtec for several years daily. My doctor said I needed to stop taking it because it added to a dizziness problem I was having from dryness and it wasn’t helping. So I quit cold Turkey a little over a week ago and it’s been driving me mad. Itching all over especially under my hair on my head and under my beard. I’m determined to stick it out under shear principle at this point and hope to never start taking it again. I have horrible allergies and it was maintaining that for the most part but I don’t like being a slave to any drug. But this is miserable. Like all day itching.

  11. Nathan
    Reply

    How did you wean off of it? Please help me I am having the worst time of my entire life

  12. Leslie
    Oregon
    Reply

    I, too, am suffering severe itching trying to get away from this miserable drug. I am in Oregon where pot is legal and have found that smoking a bit of high CBC pot helps calm the nerve endings. Good luck to all of us at the mercy of drug corporations.

  13. Bruno
    Reply

    I also switched from Cetirizine to Claritin and found myself extremely itchy after stopping the Claritin. My doctor told me that I just had a condition called Dermatographia and after being told I would have to be on these drugs for the rest of my life I decided to take matters into my own hands and do some research. It is now clear to me that I have been wrongly diagnosed and actually just formed a physical dependance to my seasonal allergy meds which I should NOT be taking in the winter. My only question is why are these threads focused solely on Cetirizine? It seems that antihistamines in general are the problem.

  14. A
    Reply

    I am having horrible itching from stopping my antihistamine that I’ve been on for 10 years. How long will this last??

    • Karen
      Madison WI
      Reply

      Hello to A and others, thank you for your comments….. I feel for you re: “takings things into my own hands” …. I really don’t think “traditional” medicine offers us a pathway to wholeness or wellness. I took loratadine (generic Claritin) for years for seasonal allergies. Last Sept, broke out in hives perhaps from chronic stress (I was a caretaker for 4 months for mother who had a stroke).

      My primary care provider wanted to put me on Prednisone !!!! I said no thank you and went to a accupuncturist. She listened more thoroughly to ALL symptoms. After 6 months of on/ off again hives I am weaning myself off loratadine and using Udos Oil( balanced Omega oils) , quercetin, nettles , high fruits/veges, whole grains , lean protein, high fiber. Basically low inflammatory diet foods.

      At night when itching becomes unbearable I sponge calamine lotion all over skin, drink Yogi Bedtime tea, has valerian root and camomile etc. Do deep breathing, prayer and meditation, knitting and reading to distract and calm myself.

      We are all doing a lot of work to help ourselves!!!! No easy! I wish everyone wholeness on your journey. Peace….

  15. Beth
    Hamburg NY
    Reply

    After several years of taking daily Zyrtec and an inability to control the withdrawal, I tried acupuncture and a Chinese herb for skin. I had 4-5 days that were rough, but I have now been off it for 3 weeks with minimal sporadic itching. I am a bit concerned about ragweed season and the need for an antihistamine. I don’t want to be hooked again.

  16. Morticia
    Columbia, SC
    Reply

    I had been reading about how abruptly stopping Zyrtec can lead to terrible itching. As I had been taking Zyrtec for mysterious hives in the first place, I certainly did not need that. So I spent two months weaning myself off of it and that worked out all right. (Hives had gone away as mysteriously as they had arrived)

  17. Ken
    Reply

    It’s amazing how little information drug manufactures actually have to provide to get approval for a drug. I am still in a quagmire with the unknown withdrawals from Lyrica, Pfizer’s so called wonder drug. So many people’s lives are being destroyed by this medication but my Doctors will not consider it. Without proper input from consumers the makers of R.X meds will never know the true effects of their drugs. This article reiterates that point. It must be considerably harder when it’s an over the counter med. I’ve reported my issues with Lyrica to my doctors, the F.D.A, pharmacist’s, MedWatch, and on & on. I suspect Pfizer’s big $$ suppresses most info. SAD.

  18. Tess
    Indiana
    Reply

    I recently weaned myself off of generic Zyrtec and had the uncontrollable itching and hives. I was miserable to say the least. It took 7 weeks to wean off of it. I didn’t think it was a good idea to quit “cold turkey”; so took myself off of it slowly. It was an awful experience that I would not want to go thru again. I literally had itching everywhere on my body; and would wake up in the middle of the night itching and scratching. I even had bruises from the scratching.

  19. ina
    IN
    Reply

    This severe itching occurs as a withdrawal symptom with Claritin also. I have tried to wean myself off of it on three separate occasions and failed. I have resigned myself to taking this medication for the rest of my life!

  20. HelenM
    Modesto
    Reply

    After being on diuretics for “idiopathic” edema, for six to eight years, a new doctor told me to stop taking them. Along came the itchies! I was putting on lanacaine at bedtime and slept just until it stopped being effective. A dermatologist gave me a steroid cream to use twice a day; but even with that it was another few weeks until it stopped. I used to scratch my skin hard enough, in my sleep, to leave marks. I think when your system is used to anything you take long term, there are going to be rebounds and repercussions when you stop and some may be expressed as itching.

  21. Jim
    Seattle WA
    Reply

    I went through this myself. Switching to another antihistamine ( I used fexofenadine a.k.a Allegra) for a few weeks after stopping the cetirizine worked pretty well; when I stopped the fexofenadine I had some mild residual itching but it went away in a few weeks.

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