Young woman's back with allergy skin problem

Over six years ago we heard from a reader who had used the antihistamine cetirizine (Zyrtec) to ease allergy symptoms. In preparation for allergy tests he tried stopping Zyrtec. He noted that:

“within three days, my entire body itched. It was so horrible that I was crying and preparing to go to the hospital for relief. Confused by the relentless itching, I forgot and took a Zyrtec by accident. Lo and behold, before I could get dressed and get in the car, my symptoms were GONE. Now, seven years later, I have tried unsuccessfully at least 10 times to quit this drug, and the reaction is more severe each time.”

Withdrawal from Stopping Cetirizine or Psychosomatic Reaction?

This was just the beginning of what has become a flood of such stories. Here is just the latest:

Q. About 18 years ago I moved to a region with high seasonal allergy triggers that affected me at least six months every year. My doctor prescribed Zyrtec and Flonase. They were both prescription only at that time.

I was to take Flonase in the spring and Zyrtec every day year round. I have been on Zyrtec for at least 10 years.

Due to weight gain and brain fog, I decided to try stopping Zyrtec and learn to live with my allergies. Little did I know what a nightmare it would be to stop this drug.

I stopped cold turkey. The intense itching started around day three. Itching everywhere: scalp, underarms, inside ears, arms, legs, back. It seemed to lighten up after week two, but not much. It is now week five and the itching is almost as bad as in week one.

Is my body ever going to be capable of handling histamine normally, or will I suffer from this withdrawal effect for years?

A. Cetirizine (Zyrtec) is a popular antihistamine that is now available over the counter. On our website hundreds of people have reported similar complications when they stopped this drug suddenly.

Some people have found that switching to a different antihistamine such as fexofenadine (Allegra) or loratadine (Claritin) can ease the itching from cetirizine withdrawal. One reader shared this experience:

“I used fexofenadine for a few weeks after stopping the cetirizine. It worked pretty well; when I stopped the fexofenadine I had some mild itching but it went away in a few weeks.”

Other readers have reduced the dose of cetirizine gradually instead of stopping abruptly. This seems to ease the hives and itching, though it may take several weeks for them to disappear.

Other Stopping Zyrtec Stories from Readers:

Angela in Indiana took it slow:

“I took Zrytec at bedtime every night for about 4 years. Whenever I’d miss a dose, I would have severe itching and thought my allergies became so bad I couldn’t get off of it.

“I decided I was ready to get allergy shots, but I needed to be off Zyrtec first. When I researched the severe itching and found out it was a withdrawal effect, I was shocked!

“Starting in January of this year, I decided I would slowly taper off. I began cutting my pills in half but I continued to take daily. In April, I started taking 1/2 pill every other day. Two weeks ago I stopped cold turkey. After 5-6 days I do have an itch, but it’s been tolerable.

“I am having horrible nightmares still. Also, I’m now having bad headaches, but ibuprofen is helping. I am determined to not go back on Zrytec, and I’ve decided to fight it through. I know first hand how horrible the withdrawal can be. I probably should have switched to taking 1/2 pill every third day for a few months, but I was anxious to get off completely.”

Anne in New England wrote:

“I found this site while searching itching as a withdrawal symptom from Zyrtec. You can guess why I googled that. I took Zyrtec for several years to address migraines caused in part by allergies. I no longer get migraines and wanted to come off the Zyrtec. I took myself down slowly, to the point where I was taking only 5 mg every three days.

“I couldn’t get below that amount without experiencing horrible itching, headache and dizziness. I stopped the Zyrtec completely five days ago and I am miserable. Thus the Google search to see if anyone else experienced the same symptoms. I am appalled!

“I’m determined to get off this drug once and for all. I’ll post an update if and when the side effects finally subside. As for now, 5 days in and miserable.”

Andy was critical of these anecdotes:

“As much as I can appreciate the anecdotes of those who seem to have drug-related side-effects (or interactions), wouldn’t it be potentially more productive to report them to an official adverse reactions database like MedWatch? That, along with actual initial and follow-up research, is the only somewhat scientific (and perhaps sometimes less biased) way of assessing the risk of such effects in the general population.”

Where IS the FDA?

Years ago we notified the Food and Drug Administration about the reports we were getting from people stopping Zyrtec and the withdrawal itching they reported. As far as we can tell, the agency has not done anything about those reports. At least we have not seen a response. We DO encourage people to report their adverse drug reactions directly to the FDA at the MedWatch portal. We cannot promise any action, though. Sometimes the FDA takes a very long time to respond to complaints or reports of side effects.

Please vote on this article at the top of the page and share your own stopping Zyrtec story below in the comment section. We will continue to let the FDA know that this issue has not disappeared.

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  1. Margie
    Col, Ms.
    Reply

    This is a horrible drug and the company should me held responsible, I too have the same problem with itching when trying to withdraw from this drug. I’ve never had a problem with my skin, but the itching is almost unbearable!

  2. Anonymous
    OH
    Reply

    My son experienced this problem after taking 10mg Zyrtec for just a few weeks when he was 10 years old. The allergist told us that he could prescribe Prednisone (corticosteroid) to ease the itching. I was able to wean my son off over a 6-week period as described by several commenters, switching to Benadryl and cutting the dose every few days until the itching stopped. We didn’t need to try the Prednisone, but it might be helpful for some.

  3. Sam
    Ibiza
    Reply

    I have taken cetirizine for approx 15 years for allergies relating to itchiness and hives, if I accidentally run out or forget to take then I am unbearably itchy by day 2, imagine my surprise when I recently Googled my symptoms to find they are actually withdrawal symptoms and not my original allergies. After reading so many comments from people I decided to go cold turkey 20 days ago. By day 4 the itch had become so awful with burning hands as well, i tried not to scratch myself at all otherwise it became worse.I took prednisone and a natural quercetin product but eventually caved and took 1/4 of a tablet. The itch stopped within the hour… I then took 1/4 of a tablet every other day when the itch level ramped up to level 8/9. A 1/4 takes it back down to level 3 for me which I can manage. After a week or so I managed to leave 2 days without and only take a 1/4 on the 3rd day. Now each time I am trying to extend the time inbetween by 12hours, so if I am due to take it in the morning I see if I can last until that evening, and next time when it is due in the evening I try to wait it out until the following morning. I am now on day 20 since I first tried to stop and I haven’t taken one for the last 4 days although I am still itchy it’s about a level 4-5 so I can just about cope if I don’t scratch and set it all off. Slowly I am weaning myself off them and as each time is longer between taking a 1/4 I am hopeful that I can stop completely soon. I hope my account helps someone else who is trying to get off this terrible drug.

    • Sam
      Reply

      Update. I’m now day at 27 and have reduced the dose to 1/8 of a tablet and am managing to go 3 days before the itch starts. Gradually I’m getting there.

  4. Jenn
    Memphis, TN
    Reply

    Found this article after having to stop taking cetirizine for an upcoming appt with an allergist, for which I need to have no anti-histamines in my body for at least a week.

    I began taking cetirizine about three months ago, when my dr prescribed it to address potential allergies that may be causing sinus issues (I never felt like anything was wrong with my sinuses, but I have dark circles and puffiness under my eyes which have not gone away even after taking cetirizine, hence the appt w an allergist for further investigation).

    When I first began taking this, I slept amazingly. I have incredibly involved, complex, often stressful dreams, I have a challenging time falling asleep and wake feeling like I’ve been problem solving all night. For at least the first week I had no dreams. It was amazing. I also noticed that there seemed to be tension–not pressure–in my forehead area that released in a noticeable way, and thought maybe I did have sinus issues that have been there so long I didn’t notice.

    I’m from Colorado but I’ve lived in Memphis, home of the “sinus cocktail” (a med combination for allergy-related sinus issues) for almost 15 years. I never felt like allergies had become a problem, but we live in an old house, in Memphis, so who knows?

    I finished the first month of the script and decided to stop taking it, because I didn’t want to be reliant on it. Didn’t notice much of a difference except with sleeping issues coming back. I also had a CT scan after that month, since there was no visible change, to see if there was something deeper going on with my sinuses–all sinus cavities came back completely clear, and I think they probably were even before the cetirizine.

    Then I had a terrible tooth ache combined with ear and jaw pain, which pseudoephedrine had helped previously, so I decided to start taking the certirizine again in case it was somehow related. The tooth pain was managed, and I’ve been taking it for about 2.5 months, worried about the tooth pain coming back until I could get it pulled. Just had the tooth pulled a week ago, and continued taking cetirizine, until last night.

    There was one other night I forgot to take it and I had the most vivid dreams that felt so real, whenever I woke up from each one I was convinced it was real and my husband had to tell me it was not. Now I’ve been reading about ppl coming off Zyrtec and having nightmares :(

    A few days ago, I had the most intense leg pain, down into the bone, and the surrounding tissues, all the way down my leg in to my foot, out of the blue, and so painful it woke me up several times throughout the night. I read of someone else having that experience. I also have been feeling for some time now like I have no joy, but I can’t figure out what’s wrong, feeling like I need to force myself to smile at my kids and husband, not because I’m unhappy but there’s just…nothing.

    I also gained 9 lbs “out of the blue” between the time I began taking cetirizine and my most recent Drs appt despite zero changes in diet or exercise, as well as escalating blood pressure, swelling and pain in my joints, retaining fluid. I’m not inclined to think each of those is directly related to taking this, but it also seems to fit the time frame and other stories I’ve read have been similar. I am VERY interested to see what changes occur over the next few weeks as I discontinue this.

    After not taking my dose last night, I woke up with an intense headache and became increasingly dizzy, nauseous, generally feeling really unwell. I cancelled the yoga classes I teach on Wednesday nights, and even scrapped my plans for errands because I don’t feel safe driving with how dizzy I suddenly am. I came to look up side effects of stopping Zyrtec to see if that might be the cause of ongoing dizziness starting suddenly, and the nausea, and wow, wow, wow!! I do NOT want to go back on this stuff!

    I read many, many stories of different approaches people have taken to cope with the withdrawal side effects, and followed the approach many people shared, by taking a very large dose of Vitamin C and vit d (Chris beat cancer has some excellent posts on safe levels a person can consume) and feel noticeably better. Dizziness and nausea are almost entirely gone, and my mood, which has been “empty” or somewhat numb for the last couple months, is greatly improved. I’m suddenly laughing again, even my kids noticed. I plan to keep it up and hope desperately to avoid the terrible itching! I will let everyone I know to be very careful with this drug. I have friends whose kids take it every day :(

  5. Melissa
    Brooklyn, NY
    Reply

    I have been taking Zyrtec every day for several years and noticed that whenever I missed a dose I my whole body would itch—starting with my hands and feet and then spreading. On the worst occasions my lips and mouth would start to burn so my doctor prescribed me an Epipen in case it ever progressed beyond that. I assumed this all meant my environmental allergies had gotten much worse over the years, but after reading other people’s accounts on here I’m convinced it was withdrawal from the Zyrtec.

    With that in mind I decided to try to stop taking it and I think I’ve made it to the other side of the unbearable itching (it has been about a week now). What worked for me was immediately taking Claritin daily instead of the Zyrtec and then adding Benadryl to that at times when the itching was really awful—especially at bed time. I also had some sunburn relief cream in the house (Radical Recovery After Sun Lotion by Coola) so I tried putting that on the itchiest areas and it actually worked! It soothed the areas that had hives/raised red marks from the scratching enough that I could go to sleep. That particular lotion is kind of pricey, but I suspect other aloe-based products could be similarly helpful.

  6. Jackie
    north carolina
    Reply

    A runny nose is my problem, plus an itchy scalp. I fugured it was allergies and got Nasonex, planning to go Zyrtec next. Thank you for this information. I found this by accident.

    Years ago, because of your column in newspaper, you advised a way to test yourself for low thyroid. I have been on Synthroid ever since as I asked doctor to check tsh.

    I tested very low and had I not seen your article who knows what would have been the result. I thank God for your help. you probably get criticism but thank you for keeping on. Now I know not to take Zyrtec.

  7. ssjohnson
    Dallas, Texas
    Reply

    Had been on daily antihistamine for more than 30 years. About nine months ago, I started taking Zyrtec only when needed instead of every day. When I was down to a pill every third day or so, I started taking half a pill. Eventually I was down to every third or forth day. I’d get a little itchy but only took a half a pill when the itching was unbearable. Four months ago was the last time I took half a Zyrtec. I still get a little itchy from time to time but it’s been manageable. I hope I’m not jinxing myself by writing this.

  8. Victor
    South Carolina
    Reply

    Like other readers, I also experienced the withdrawal symptoms caused by this medication. Fortunately, I was warned about this potential issue by a nurse. When I got ready to eliminate Zyrtec from my daily routine, I weened myself slowly off it. Luckily, I only experienced increased itchiness for a few days. My case was fairly mild because I had only been using the medication for a few months (and not years like others in your audience). Thanks for sharing this valuable information!

  9. C M
    Greensboro
    Reply

    I am suffering from Zyrtec withdrawal now. My new allergy doctor gave me instructions to stop Allegra, which my old allergy doctor had prescribed. All of the comments have helped me decide to do a slow withdrawal. I can attest that the itching is very uncomfortable and it occurs everywhere. I did have allergy tests, all negative, but I still have chronic sinusitis and pressure. I am using Flonase and saline nasal rinses. Flonase and other sprays like it are not the miracle cure for me. My ENT says surgery is not warranted. I want to eliminate Flonase and sprays like it. I will continue with saline and possibly add Mucinex. Maybe I will add a decongestant but I am concerned about side effects for that as well. Hopefully I will be able to get relief.

  10. Johanna
    Long Island, New York
    Reply

    I am interested in stopping long-time use of Xyzal, which I understand is the prescription form of Zyrtec, and have used it since Zyrtec went over-the-counter. I had no rashes or itching doing so, but would like advice and comments whether the same thing will happen to me. Johanna

  11. Ray
    Davenport, FL
    Reply

    I have been on Cetirizine for 10 years for itching. I have tried to wean myself off, but can’t do it. My doctor gave me a prescription for a different drug and said to take it for 2 months and try to stop again. When I couldn’t do it he said the problem was my allergies, not the certerizine. The intense itching started after I took Lamisil for toenail fungus. Never had a problem before that. I also became allergic to aspirin, Benadryl and ibuprofen. I can only use Tylenol now. My doctor says the Lamisil couldn’t have done it, but I’m convinced it did.

  12. Cynthia
    Orlando, FL
    Reply

    I have been taking allergy meds for almost 30 years due to the severity of allergens in South and now Central Florida. I have tried all of them and have found a need to rotate them after I have been on one for a while, due to an effectiveness loss.

    There is some rebound with every type, but Zyrtec is the absolute worst! I started using it shortly after it was introduced and when I stopped taking it, noticed the hives and itching that began as the medicine slowly decreased in my system. It is intense and usually lasts about 10 days. I couldn’t sleep, as I would be scratching all over my body. My doctor told me it was unrelated. Hmmmm.

    Over the years, I have used it a few more times, but each time the withdrawal seemed more severe. The last and final time I will ever take that drug, I immediately used Loratadine instead of trying to let my body go antihistamine-free for a few months. After a month, I was able to stop the Loratadine with no problems except a mild rebound.

    I first saw a mention of others having the same symptoms in the newspaper and now here. Others I have told about it, as well as doctors, haven’t experienced it or seem unimpressed. There is definitely a relation and when the hives and swelling are in one’s mouth and throat, it is terrifying!

  13. Shelly K.
    Hampton, VA (USA)
    Reply

    I came to your website because I enjoy your column in my local newspaper and I am glad I read this article. I have been a seasonal allergy sufferer all my life and lately have began suffering year round allergies. I have spoken to a lot of allergy sufferers who have had a lot of success with Zyrtec and have recently considered trying it. After reading this article, I am now thinking twice.

    Thank you so much for all you do!

  14. Linda
    Pennsylvania
    Reply

    I had the same problems as discussed above after being on Zyrtec for 10 years. Here is what finally worked. I went from 10 mg to 5 mg and I stayed with that dose for months. Then I cut that in half. You have to get the liquid and take a toddler’s dose. I stayed with that for months. Then I only took it every other day. When I stopped I experienced mild itching for 4-5 days. It’s been about 4 weeks now with no more itching.

  15. joyce
    Durham NC
    Reply

    Me, too! It took me a few days to figure out what was going on. The fact that the itching was gradually diminishing without my changing any habits was the clue I needed. I itched everywhere, especially my scalp! It was like having poison ivy pop up here… and then there….. It’s been two weeks and it’s finally pretty much over… thank goodness!

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