The People's Perspective on Medicine

Stopping Zyrtec (Cetirizine) Led to Itchy Nightmare

When people take cetirizine for allergy symptoms they do not think about side effects when they stop the drug. But reports of withdrawal itching continue!

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.

Rate this article
4.7- 37 ratings
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.” .
The People’s Pharmacy Quick and Handy Home Remedies

Home remedies can be surprisingly effective for a number of common ailments. They're less expensive with fewer side effects than prescription drugs. Time-tested solutions for minor health problems.

The People’s Pharmacy Quick and Handy Home Remedies
Join over 150,000 Subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

We're empowering you to make wise decisions about your own health, by providing you with essential health information about both medical and alternative treatment options.

Showing 22 comments
Add your comment

I took Cetirizine for pollen allergy 10 years ago. Everytime I tried to stop it was itching so badly, I had to go on taking it. I thought itching was a symptom of my allergy. I took a lot of exams with a dermatologist but he didn’t find any cause. Nonetheless, it cost me a lot of money. I tried to look on internet at that time because I was worried about the side effect of taking a drug long term.

Finally I found other people reporting the same problem as a weaning consequence when trying to get free of Ceterezine. I was horrified to understand the trap of the phamaceutical industry here with the complicit silence of the sanitary authorities. I follow this method and it worked for me:Allegra 180mg for 1 week, half pill 1 week, quarter 1 week, 1/8 pill 10 days, and stop. 21 days to be completely clean from the drug after. Someone else posted it, and I followed it with success. My turn to testify to help others to be free of this terrible drug.

I, too, developed itching on my hands and feet after missing a weekend of Cetirizine. I couldn’t figure out why I itched so severely and couldn’t sleep. I tried lotions, washing my hands and feet; cooling towels, etc. and nothing gave me relief. I had no idea of the cause. I took my regular dosage, and everything stopped so I connected the dots and realized that the itching might be a side effect of the missed dosage. If I miss more than one dose the itching begins again. I am so grateful to find that this isn’t just in my head. I will begin the challenge of weaning myself off Cetirizine gradually.

Thank you all for your testimonies. I am taking Cetirizine for now 10 years. I noticed that if I am taking it every other day and even 3 days apart it is enough, but I always worry about being dependent on a drug. I often have nightmares, and someone had told me it is correlated with this drug. I was experiencing itching and swollen red skin as an indicator that I have to take the next dose of 10mg. I thought that it was the expression of my allergies. Now I understand that it was the zyrtec withdrawal effect, thanks to your testimonies. I will work to get free of that poison, following your advice. AGAIN, THANK YOU.

I stopped Zyrtec cold turkey last week after hearing a friends horror story about bladder problems caused from antihistamines. Started itching on my feet and hands after about a day, since then I have itchy spots all over. It’s miserable and I’ve only been sleeping about three hours a night.

When I itch I get hives. I would never have taken it all these years for allergies had I known. I’m over a week out going cold turkey except for an occasional benedryl when I thought I was going to lose my mind from the itching skin.

I started taking Cetrizine about 3 years ago when I developed severe seasonal allergies that covered me in hives and eczema from head to toe (even on my face!) for a full 2 months. A coworker recommended Cetrizine and I tried it.

Honestly, after 2 months of unbearable itching and public self consciousness, it seemed like a miracle drug. No other allergy medicine has ever done anything for me and with Cetrizine, my face was noticeably clearer by the time I got home from buying it at the store. I did notice some immediate side effects though. My legs started to retain water so I could barely bend my knees and I was cold all the time, even through a summer heat wave, which I think means it lowered my blood pressure.

Those symptoms disappeared after a couple weeks, and may have been partly due to the shock my body was in from the sudden allergy attack. Over the last 3 years, my itchy allergy symptoms have started to come back every time I missed a few doses and I’ve always thought it was just the allergies returning.

I decided about a week ago to stop taking Cetrizine because it’s expensive and I worry about side effects and I just don’t believe that I have seasonal allergies 365 days a year and I don’t want to be dependent on a pill. The itching started around day 3 and is still going strong, but it isn’t as bad or as persistent or as widespread as the reaction that caused me to start taking Cetrizine in the first place.

Since other allergy pills have never done anything for me, I’ve been treating the itch with hydrocortizone cream when it becomes unbearable and before I go to bed, and it’s working pretty well, although the itch and redness tend to pop up in different places. I’m glad to find this place and see I’m not the only one who’s experienced this, and also glad there seems to be an end date for most people. They really need to put a warning about withdrawal on the box.

Honestly, I would take Cetrizine again if I was in the same situation as I was 3 years ago, but I would be more careful next time and I’d wean myself off it a lot sooner.

After 9 and a half years taking this I began weaning off at half a pill for 4 months. then attempted to reduce. The itching was bad, but I was determined. I have experienced bad ear infections every time I tried to taper from 1/2 to 1/4 from September 2017 until now, Feb 2018 I have had 6 ear infections that were so severe, I bled from the ear, each infection started about 7 days post reduction. After the last infection, I went off zyrtec completely, and used half dose benadril a couple times a day when the itching was bad. I’m on week 3 now, and no return ear infections. Itching is still bad, but I am hopeful I can reduce the benadril slowly and increase my natural histamine responses to where they should be. I will never return, even if I live with the itch daily for the rest of my life. I also noticed this week, that my focus at work is gradually improving. I had been having problems for months with being easily distracted. Looking back, the improvement probably started while I was weaning. Ironic…even with the itching distraction, my concentration was improving.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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 :(

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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

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.

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!

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!

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.

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!

* Be nice, and don't over share. View comment policy^