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Running Out of Zyrtec on a Remote Island Causes a Crisis

A reader who lives on a Pacific island discovered to his dismay that running out of Zyrtec triggered horrible itching and hives.
Running Out of Zyrtec on a Remote Island Causes a Crisis
Young woman is scratching herself on arm

Some medicines can be unexpectedly difficult to quit. By now, most people realize that benzodiazepine drugs such as alprazolam (Xanax) or lorazepam (Ativan) used to treat anxiety can cause distressing withdrawal symptoms if they are stopped abruptly.

Another class of drugs that is notorious for causing a difficult withdrawal syndrome consists of the Z sleeping pills: eszopiclone (Lunesta), zaleplon (Sonata) and zolpidem (Ambien). And of course, people expect withdrawal symptoms from discontinuing a narcotic pain reliever or even tramadol, which was not considered a typical narcotic when it was first introduced.

Getting Off Zyrtec Is Harder Than It Seems:

But there are other medicines that can cause trouble if they are stopped suddenly, and the reaction may take people by surprise. This reader encountered a withdrawal reaction from cetirizine (Zyrtec) that many others have reported to us. It is still not recognized in the official prescribing information, however.

Q. I live on a remote island in the South Pacific that is almost a 12-hour flight from Los Angeles. A week ago I ran out of Zyrtec.

Itching to Quit Zyrtec:

Over the next four days I experienced some of the worst hives and itchy symptoms in my entire life. Benadryl was my only relief, and working three jobs is difficult enough without the drowsiness Benadryl causes.

Then I read all the stories on your website about people experiencing unbearable itching when they stopped Zyrtec. I immediately ran out to the only place on island that sells Zyrtec and found instant relief.

When I am finally ready to take the plunge of quitting Zyrtec, at least I have an idea what kind of punishment to expect.

A. We have received so many reports of itching and hives associated with stopping cetirizine (Zyrtec) that we contacted the FDA. The agency has not responded.

Running Out of Zyrtec:

Like you, most people don’t realize that running out of Zyrtec could trigger prolonged itching. If enough individuals tell the FDA about this complication, perhaps a warning will be included on the label. The best way to report such an adverse drug reaction is at www.FDA.gov/MedWatch.

We think that cetirizine can be helpful for controlling allergy symptoms in the short term or periodically for a few days. But before anyone starts taking this medication day in and day out for weeks or months, he should be forewarned that running out of Zyrtec could be a very trying experience.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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