Cetirizine is an antihistamine used to treat allergies such as hay fever. It alleviates symptoms of runny nose, itchy, red, watery eyes, and sneezing.

Zyrtec has also been found to be helpful against hives and itching of the skin.

Cetirizine works by blocking histamines released in the body in response to allergens. When it was introduced, it was not expected to cause sedation. At effective doses, however, cetirizine may make many people feel drowsy. A closely related drug, levocetirizine (Xyzal) is available only by prescription in the US.

Side Effects and Interactions

The most common side effects of Zyrtec include drowsiness, dry mouth, fatigue, and dizziness. Constipation, nausea, headache, sore throat and cough are not unusual. Rare side effects may include tremor, increased appetite, weight gain, ringing in ears, muscle pain, skin rash, hair loss, and liver enzyme elevations. Report any symptoms to your physician promptly, but especially such potentially serious side effects as

  • Confusion, restlessness, hyperactivity
  • Fast, pounding, or uneven heartbeat
  • Sleep problems, weakness, uncontrollable shaking
  • Vision problems
  • Urinating less than usual or not at all

Be aware that it may be difficult to discontinue cetirizine if it has been taken continuously for some time. Many people experience intolerable itching for several weeks if they stop the drug abruptly.

Drug interactions are apparently uncommon, though alcohol and nervous system depressants could add to the sedative action of cetirizine.

Special Precautions

Older people and those with kidney or liver problems may not eliminate cetirizine efficiently and will likely need a lower dose.

Because this antihistamine may cause drowsiness it could make driving dangerous. This is also true for any task that requires mental alertness.

Do not drink alcohol or take other sedating drugs, as it could add to this effect.

Taking the Medicine

Food has very little impact on cetirizine absorption and consequently this medicine can be taken once a day at a time that is convenient.

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  1. Brian R.

    I got dermatographia, according to my doctor, years ago after coming back from a trip overseas. I had streaking of the skin and mild itching every once in a while. After about a year the streaking stopped but would get itchy every 4 days, and a Zyrtec which stopped it immediately. I have been doing this for over 10 years now, and I am shocked to realize that my itching is from the Zyrtec itself. I will reduce dose and hopefully fight through itching until it stops without taking another Zyrtec. Incredible. Can anyone tell me how long itching may persist after I stop taking Zyrtec?

  2. Scott

    I’ve also experienced zyrtec withdrawal symptoms–unbearable itching accompanied by agitation that seems to ramp up even before the itching starts. My doctor prescribed hydroxizine pamoate as an alternative; apparently it’s an antihistamine often prescribed for itching, but also sometimes prescribed for anxiety, with a chemical similarity(?) to cetirizine. I was able to use that to bridge off the cetirizine and it works well for me as my go-to on days with a lot of allergens about.

  3. Ginnie
    Seattle WA

    I have taken Zrytec D for years and decided to stop taking it after I moved cross country. I was glad to find these comments, as I am itching like crazy. I stopped the drug about 1 week ago and am still itching. How long will the itching last???

  4. Gerry

    I take zyrtec every night as part of treatment for angioedema, for which I was diagnosed back in 2000. Recently bought some over the counter at walmart, their generic (cheaper) kind, and started itching on both arms. It comes and goes. Also hair loss. Don’t know if it’s caused by the generic zyrtec or not. I will buy some non-generic and see what happens. I have to take this along with benadryl every day of my life for the angioedema.

  5. jh

    I have found two things that help me get past the terrible itching in hands and feet.

    1. hydrocortisone (topical) – I was so desperate I stole some of my cat’s “hot spot” spray. It worked.

    2. hand-held vibrating massager – numbs the nervous system.

    Hope this helps someone. The itch is TERRIBLE.

  6. JM

    I am having the exact same problem and thought I was going crazy or it was my antibiotic. Awful burning and itching in hands and feet. Burning throughout my body and tingling in feet and hands. I also was blowing blood out, which wasn’t happening before and have strange yellow liquid drip now. I also feel hot and constantly sweating. I am stopping this drug immediately and hope things go back to normal.

  7. Tori

    I started taking cetirizine about 3 days ago parts of my body is burning as if I have a rash and I’m itching and tingling in the inside of my skin is that normal??? I see everybody having side effects after they stop taking it but mines happen when I started taking it … someone please tell me I’m not crazy

  8. Angie

    I have been taking Zyrtec everyday for 6+ years. Every time I would try to stop, I would get the incredible itch that many of you have experienced. In January, I decided to start taking 1/2 pill everyday. In April, I took 1/2 pill every other day, and I stopped completely in Mid July. I did have some itch, but not as bad. In early June, my hair dresser noticed 2 bald patches on the back of my head. I have been tested for Thyroid issues and I was normal. The dermatologist diagnosed me with Alopecia Areata. I am in total denial that at age 37, I would just now being getting Alopecia. Has anyone else experienced this with withdrawal? Now that I am off Zyrtec for 30 days, I do have an appointment at the end of the month to get allergy tested; however, I am anxious to know if this could be the cause of my hair loss. I have long thick hair, so I have been able hide the spots, but they are continuing to grow. One patch has grown to the size of about 3 quarters, and the other, while it started out as a Nickel size when I first found it, has grown to slightly larger than a quarter in only 2 months time. This is VERY scary. PLEASE.. .if anyone can share a similar story, I would feel so much better.

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