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Can You Stop Zyrtec Without Horrendous Itching?

After some people have taken cetirizine (Zyrtec) or levocetirizine (Xyzal) for months or years, they may develop horrendous itching when they stop.
Can You Stop Zyrtec Without Horrendous Itching?
Young woman is scratching herself on arm

Did you know that certain antihistamines can trigger very unpleasant withdrawal symptoms? Very few doctors are aware that people who stop cetirizine (Zyrtec) or levocetirizine (Xyzal) suddenly may suffer horrendous itching. As a result, they can’t warn their patients ahead of time. Too many people discover this challenging situation on their own.

Stopping Zyrtec Triggered Horrendous Itching:

Q. I have taken Zyrtec daily for over four years to manage animal and seasonal allergies. Recently, I went on vacation and did not take the Zyrtec during that time. (I was away from the allergy sources, after all.)

After a few days off the medicine, I developed a sudden and excruciating itching. Oddly, it felt like it came from within my body rather than on the surface. The itch started in my inner thighs and spread to my sides and back.

Luckily, I went online and searched the reactions I was feeling. My symptoms matched those of others who stopped Zyrtec suddenly.

Once I realized this was a withdrawal reaction, I took a Zyrtec pill. Within the hour the itching stopped. Now I am afraid to ever stop taking Zyrtec. The itch was very intense, and I don’t want to go through that again!

FDA Acknowledges Zyrtec Withdrawal Syndrome:

A. Readers of this column alerted us to this withdrawal phenomenon nearly a decade ago. At that time cetirizine (Zyrtec) was available only by prescription. Unfortunately, the prescribing information did not warn about a withdrawal itch reaction.

The FDA has now acknowledged that many people experience unbearable itching (pruritus) when they stop cetirizine suddenly (Therapeutic Advances in Drug Safety, July 5, 2019). 

According to the report:

“Some patients described the itch as so intense that it impacted their ability to work, sleep, or perform their normal daily activities…”

At last, the agency requires a warning about this withdrawal reaction in the prescribing information for both cetirizine and its chemical cousin levocetirizine (Xyzal). As far as we can tell, however, this alert is not included in the OTC labels.

You can read more stories about this withdrawal syndrome at this link:

Some people find that if they can withstand the horrendous itching for five or six weeks, they are no longer troubled by it. Others resort to a different antihistamine to control the itching, then wean themselves off that. Finally, a few people gradually increase the time between cetirizine doses to taper themselves off the drug gradually, without triggering itching and hives.

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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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Citations
  • Chung AH et al, "Pruritus after discontinuation of cetirizine." Therapeutic Advances in Drug Safety, July 5, 2019. doi: 10.1177/2042098619859996
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