The People's Perspective on Medicine

Stopping Allergy Medicine Abruptly Leads to Itching and Burning

Suddenly quitting cetirizine resulted in a withdrawal reaction with horrible burning and unbearable itching.

Spring allergies are in full force in some parts of the country, and people are looking for ways to alleviate their congestion, sneezing and itchy eyes. A non-sedating antihistamine can be extremely helpful for easing symptoms.

But people who use cetirizine (Zyrtec) need to be aware that after continuous use for several weeks or months, this drug may be hard to quit. We have written about this before, but we appreciate this reader’s experience.

Q. I have seasonal allergies, and my allergist recommended Zyrtec. I’ve taken it daily for years.

Stopping Zyrtec

This year a new allergist wanted to test me again, so I had to stop the Zyrtec. I did it cold turkey, and it was a nightmare! My hands and feet were itching and burning so badly I could not sleep.

Once the test was done, I started back on Zyrtec. Within half an hour of taking the first pill, the symptoms disappeared.

Both my allergist and my primary care doctor insisted that there could be no connection with the Zyrtec. They say it is completely safe for long-term use. I want to share my experience to warn others of this nasty problem.

A. Hundreds of people have commented on our website about their withdrawal symptoms after stopping Zyrtec suddenly. The majority of them report unbearable itching that can last for weeks.

One reader wrote:

“After days of intense itching and almost scratching my skin off, I decided to Google Zyrtec withdrawal. I am comforted by the fact that I do not have some horrible disease. I just took another Zyrtec until I decide what to do.”

It’s little wonder that physicians are skeptical about this reaction. There is nothing about it in the prescribing information, which is how most health care providers learn about adverse effects.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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In case anyone sees this, I’d also like to mention that I took Loratadine for roughly three years. About a week ago, I decided to stop taking it, and I experienced an itchy and burning sensation on various parts of my body. At first, I didn’t think the itchiness was linked to Loratadine until today when I took some Benadryl and looked at the Loratadine bottle. At that moment, I connected the dots and searched to see if anyone else experienced this miserable withdrawal symptom. I’m not sure if I should go cold turkey and bear with the itchiness until it stops because it’s occasional, not constant, but perhaps it’s better to taper off the medicine. To those who are struggling with this withdrawal symptom: I wish you all the best and hope you can get rid of it.

I’m a writer looking to talk to people who have suffered adverse effects upon stopping regular cetirizine use, in particular, this chronic itching that seems very common.

Are you interested in being a part of my article? Let me know here:

Stopped Allegra last week for allergy testing yesterday. The doctor said the itching that started a 2 days after stopping the Allergra cold turkey wasn’t from the Allegra, but I have never had itching before and actually tested ALLERGY FREE! I had started on Allegra and Flonase after a bad cold that was thought to be allergy-related. I’m keeping the Flonase for now and not going back on the Allegra. Today is day 8 without the drug and I am feeling less itchy. Good luck!

I would like to weigh in here with my own experiences regarding loratadine (Claritin). I’ve always had allergies and have rotated through all different kinds of allergy meds before arriving at loratadine as the most effective, least sedating, and cheapest option. I’ve been taking this stuff for years and never really had an issue, but I wanted to get off of it to see where my allergies are and to see if I would be a good candidate for allergy shots.

Approx 2-3 days after stopping loratadine (10 mg orally, once a day) I slowly started to become more and more itchy, with rashes and hives appearing primarily on the palms and backs of my hands. The random itching everywhere really is a pain in the ass but it’s not terrible either. Next time I have to take loratadine I’ll try to taper and see where that gets me.

I am another person who twice now has had the same reaction when going off Allegra/fexofenadine. twice now has had the same reaction when going off Allegra/ Fexofenadine. I’m going through it right now, in fact, and the only reason I went back on the Allegra the first time was because I couldn’t stand the withdrawl symptoms. It is as if dermatitis and systemic inflammation problems that I didn’t have before the Allegra suddenly appear when I don’t take it anymore. My palms itch, I get hives, itchy hives on the soles of my feet, I get chest congestion that was never there before that feels like bronchitis for a cold I never had. I also have IBS, and going off Allegra makes my IBS go haywire–I become very irregular, and IBS-related hemorrhoids which are usually in check immediately flare up in an awful and pretty nonstop way. And if I go back on the Allegra all of this goes away almost immediately. But of course I don’t want to go back on the Allegra because I’m really horrified by the effect, this effect, that it has on your system that they don’t want you to know about. So I’ve gone back to Loratadine which kind of works and I’m just going to tough it out this time.

I have taken cetirizine and fexofenedine interchangeably for many years, more than 10. Cetirizine works best for the post nasal drip and stuffiness I had due to perennial allergies which cause sinus growths. I have had several sinus surgeries. Fexofenedine was prescribed because cetirizine effects lessen over time, my ENT/allergist told me. I want to be off these meds. and am experiencing such sneezing and runny nose bouts in trying to stop them. Itching in various places as well, seems to travel, but the other symptoms are ridiculous. It isn’t true that I’m merely suffering from allergens now that the histamine blockers are taken away.

I had the same reaction stopping Allegra. And it happened on two different occasions…. It’s not a coincidence, and and it’s real. AND I’m a physician.

Cristina, Florida

Same here. Went on Zyrtec and Flonase long term after allergies and sinus infections flared up. Once allergy season ended I stopped taking both. The itching has been sudden and markedly noticeable – so much so that I googled it and found this page. It was obvious to me that it was some type of reaction to ceasing the allergy meds – but was glad to see it pop up on my Google search nonetheless.

Same thing here. It took almost two months for it to stop completely. Very upsetting. I had taken it again a few weeks ago and then stopped when I didn’t need it and it’s back to the itching again. Moatlybaround my neck and jaw area.

I had the same reaction, intense itchy skin for weeks, after discontinuing Levocetirizine. I attempted to do more of a weaning off method where I took 1/2 a pill each day then 1/2 a pill every other day etc. This method did not work.

Hi R (Tx)
Facing the exact same predicament. Have you been successful in stopping your depedence on levocetrizine? How did you do it?

I want to thank everyone that wrote a comment as I am going through the itching process now and your comments really helped me see It is not only in my head,

I’m so glad I came across this feed. I have all the symptoms of zyrtec withdrawal. I’m going to follow the advice of cutting the dose in half for six weeks and then another 6 weeks etc. Hopefully I can live with the itch in the process (praying really hard).

I was prescribed Loratadine for post nasal drip only. At the time, I told the doctor that I don’t like taking meds because of the potential side effects. He said it is a very benign medication. After being on it daily for 1 year, I noticed side effects and stopped taking it. The itching was unbearable, and I went to the doctor who gave me a steroid injection and prescribed another medication that I never took. I went to my dermatologist who said I had urticarial dermatitis. She prescribed zyrtec. I went back to the Loratadine, as my research indicated that Zyrtec is much worse.

Another year later, after daily Loratadine, I began itching while taking it. I realized that the doctor would only increase the dosage, and this would become a vicious cycle. I cut the Loratadine in half for 6 weeks (I had some itching but not as bad as I expected). After 6 weeks, I went to taking the 1/2 dose every other day. I am not having bad itching at this point. It has been nearly two months. I will take it every other day for 6 weeks and then cut back more. This approach is working for me.

Right on target ! I am experiencing the same side effects on loratadine ! I have glaucoma I think it is making my eyes dry

I’ve had the same problem when I stopped taking Allegra so I think it’s our bodies reacting to no allergy medicine

I too believe I had an adverse experience with Zyrtec. Though my experience was a bit different time wise the others. Although previously I had been on it for short periods of time, last year I stayed on it for the entire fall and winter. I took the drug for post nasal drip, not allergies. Once Spring came, I stopped the medication. Around 10 days after stopping the drug, I developed itching and skin prickling. This sensation lasted for around two months; despite briefly resuming Zyrtec, therefore since the drug did not relieve the symptoms I quit taking it. I saw my PA and naturally she did not believe me. Though she did recommend Cetaphil cream and Allegra. Allegra did not do anything either. I found the Cetaphil and the Coconut Oil (another reader suggested the oil) seemed to help. Now 3 months later, the sensations are almost non-existent.

I had a horribly itchy scalp after stopping Alavert, which I had taken daily for years for my allergies.

I too have noticed itching, mostly on my scalp, for about a week after stopping Zyrtec. I no longer take it year round, only when I feel other remedies are not enough. I am most allergic to pollen. Also I seem to get very dry nasal passages in the winter. So most of the winter I use a nasal rinse. This also helps keep me from getting sinus infections and clears some congestion from allergies. In the spring, when the pollen starts bothering me (my symptoms are congestion & lack of energy), I add guaifenesin, wear a mask when working outside, and shower immediately when I come inside. If/when symptoms get worse I start taking Zyrtec. I have tried other allergy medicines, but they don’t work for me.

I used to have horrible seasonal allergies. They’re not as bad now (maybe because I’m in a different area of the country, but who knows? I had them in lots of regions). I’ve been able to control them with no drugs in the past couple years with a neti pot and one of those packets of Neil Med premixed saline and sodium bicarbonate combos. What I discovered is that using a pinch of salt in the neti pot (which is what I used to do) didn’t really help because it irritated by nasal passages — probably something about the pH balance not being quite right. Also, using the neti pot once a day may not be enough, but on a bad allergy day, using it repeatedly will do the trick. At least for me it has.

It happened to me. I just trudged through and dealt with the itching for the 2 1/2 weeks it lasted. I won’t be taking an allergy medicine again any time soon.

I, too, experienced unbearable itching after quitting Zyrtec. It was prescribed by my doctor for allergies and I took it for years. I read online that it could cause a person to itch for up to 6 weeks after quitting . In spite of this warning and because I didn’t want to continue a medication with that possible side effect, I quit it cold turkey and itched for 3 weeks unremittingly. I told my pharmacist about my experience. He seemed surprised but unimpressed.

My husband and I took loratadine , the generic form of Claratin, year-round for years (about 10 years according to my memory) to treat seasonal allergies. Once I asked a pharmacist if there were any problems with taking it. Her words were something to the effect of ‘You could take it every day of the year with no ill effects’. We moved to a different state and decided to quit taking loratadine to see if we still experienced allergy symptoms. At times the itching was miserable. We found that high doses of vitamin C helped. I had a welt come up on my face while we were going through the itching phase. I crushed a vitamin C tablet, mixed it with water to form a paste and applied it to the welt. The welt went away. We never started taking loratadine again.

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