The People's Perspective on Medicine

The Zyrtec Itch is Unbearable | Where’s the FDA?

We have reported "the Zyrtec itch" to the FDA with disappointing results. Hundreds of people have reported problems with itching when they stop Zyrtec suddenly. The FDA doesn't respond to our concerns
A woman has after a mosquito bite a itchy skin and scratching

We first heard about the Zyrtec itch over eight years ago. A reader reported horrible itching within three days of stopping Zyrtec (cetirizine is the generic name for this antihistamine). He reported that the Zyrtec itch was so bad he was preparing to go to the hospital. When he restarted Zyrtec, the itching magically disappeared. Here is a link to that original story along with hundreds of comments from other visitors to this web site.

We notified the FDA. We got no response. Just a few weeks ago we contacted one of the highest executives at the agency to  again report that stopping cetirizine suddenly could trigger the Zyrtec itch. We were told we would be contacted by the person in charge of such matters. So far, we have heard nada from that person.

The Zyrtec Itch May Appear When the Drug Is Stopped Suddenly:

Q. I have been taking Zyrtec for several years on a daily basis. Any time I go more than three days without it, I start to itch like crazy!

I found several articles on your website with people complaining of the same thing. My question is: how do you stop taking it? What is the best way to manage the withdrawal from it?

A. Hundreds of readers have written to us about this problem. Stopping either cetirizine (Zyrtec) or levocetirizine (Xyzal) suddenly may trigger unbearable itching that could last for some weeks. If you can stand the itching, it should ease up eventually.

A medical report on this phenomenon recommends gradual dose reduction or a short course of corticosteroids such as prednisolone to ease the itching during withdrawal (Drug Safety Case Reports, Dec. 2016).

Ideally, people would be alerted to this potential problem before they started such antihistamines, so the itching wouldn’t come as a surprise.

Other Stories from Readers:

We are fairly certain that many people can take Zyrtec and Xyzal without problems. These individuals probably experience no withdrawal symptoms upon stopping the drugs suddenly. The trouble is that we have not found large, well-controlled studies to confirm our hypothesis. We would like to know if this is a rare occurrence or fairly common. As far as we can tell, the FDA has not required the manufacturers to carry out such tests.

Here are just a few more stories from readers:

Nikki in Tennessee reports the Zyrtec itch on stopping the drug:

“I am itching to death! I tried to come off this medication a few months ago with no luck. I had severe withdrawal from stopping the medicine cold turkey.

“I went back on the drug until till last Sunday. I stopped, but slowly. I’m having new symptoms daily. I started taking Zyrtec again but, I’m beginning to itch all over. My skin is crawling. I’m burning up from the inside. I have a red rash all over my chest. It feels like bugs are crawling all over me. I have red itchy eyes, sneezing, watery eyes. You name it, I have it right now! I refuse to take it ever again, even if I itch myself to death!”

J.D.B. in New Zealand reported an itch with a different brand of cetirizine:

“I have been on my hay fever medicine for a few years now but they recently ran out. I was too busy to get more.

“Lo and behold the itching started. It’s only been 3.5 days and I’m ready to rip my skin off! Dya think it could be the med? I take Zetop.”

Upon doing some checking we discovered that Zetop is a form of cetirizine.

Josh in Kansas City, MO, adds his perspective:

“I have tried to stop taking cetirizine for over a year. I went to my allergist and asked if cetirizine could be the issue. He said it has to be something else. He told me to take cetirizine every night and Claritin every morning until my hives and itching were gone for 3 months. Then he said I could try again to stop taking it.

“What dumb advice. I did this for 2 months and then tried to stop taking it again. After one day I started getting hives again.

“This is not something I had prior to taking cetirizine. I had seasonal allergies. If I had known I could become dependent on this drug and have horrible hives all over my body as well as itching on the bottoms of my feet, I would never had taken a single pill.

“I have been off of it for eight days. During that time I have only been able to get relief with Benadryl. I am also taking a Quercetin blend and don’t know if they are helping at all. I hope this gets out of my system soon. I have never had itching this bad on the bottoms of my feet.”

Here is the original article from May 5, 2010:

You will find many other posts if you search this web site for Zyrtec and itch.

Share your own story in the comment section below. If you have not experienced itching upon stopping cetirizine (Zyrtec) or levocetirizine (Xyzal), please share your story below as well.

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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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I’ve been taking Zyrtec for about six months. I had to stop five days ago before allergy testing. Two days after I stopped I started itching uncontrollably! I’m absolutely miserable. I’ve scratched the palm of my hands raw, bruised the upper part of both arms from scratching, my face, scalp…’s generalized…..all over! It’s almost as if allergists and medical staff are forbidden to talk about it! I tried to talk to the nurse about it before my allergy test, and she gave me a validation nod, but wouldn’t say anything! When I started scratching everywhere, I thought it was all in my head. I’m grateful to have found all these other people who have experienced this withdrawal symptom. I can’t believe the FDA is not taking this seriously. It’s almost debilitating and also alarming when it hits you.

Hi – I took Zyrtec D everyday for one year and determined that it was causing me chronic constipation. Upon my own research, antihistamines are one of the top 8 medications that can cause constipation. I stopped cold turkey not knowing that after two days of being off of it I started itching like crazy! The same as everyone else here describes. Unbearable insane itching! I refused to go back on it and got some relief from Benadryl and Claritin for about a week. I stopped both and for three weeks I was absolutely fine. This morning I woke up and the insane itching started again! Crazy! The tree pollen count is high and I am not sure if that is what triggered it but I am back to feeling like I did the first week. I thought I had it beat! Crazy! Took a Claritin and it does dissipate some of the itching but not completely.

Is there a class action lawsuit on this? I am ready. Been struggling with this for years. An inside-out itching sensation which causes so much stress.

I got off zyrtec because it gave me unbearable heart burn. The heart burn gradually stopped when I stopped Zyrtec.

8 years ago I went off Zyrtec. Horrible itching, painful sores and spots coming up at my most sensitive areas – anywhere fabric touched my body. I’ve had 8 years of itching to figure this out. I ended up going back on Benadryl. My doctor told me not to bother trying to figure out why I had this horrible affliction. I read the comments here periodically. I think there is a connection between Zyrtec use and those who had a prior sensitivity to Sulfa drugs.

Here is what I’ve done:

I quit eating wheat and soy. I found my health got somewhat better, but I still itched.
I found that certain alcohols made me turn bright red.
Potatoes and legumes made me itch.
Dairy made me itch.
Everything made me itch.

A week ago, I made an organic turkey for Thanksgiving. It is just me and my husband at home now, and my daughter and her boyfriend came for Thanksgiving dinner, so we had lots of leftovers. I ate nothing but organic turkey all week and for the first time in 8 years I have no hives!

If you do one thing, eat organic meat. It really makes a difference!

I ate potatoes and got no hives. I drank wine and did not turn red!

Last night I did the reverse test – I ate some non-organic meat. I started itching. Mildly, but it seems to have built up in my system. 8 years of AGONY, and I was poisoning myself the whole time.


And fon’t forget about organic dairy as well.

I am ecstatic right now, feel healthy and have tons of energy. I was on so much benedryl that I became dizzy when the hives started going away. I tapered off and am down to two pills a day, and will be completely free in another day or two.

Pay the extra money and eat ORGANIC. Don’t wait 8 years like I did.

I discovered the dreaded itch when I had to get off of Zyrtec for 3 days for allergy testing because it was no longer helping. The itching is so bad that I have bruises from scratching! Stupid doctor told me just to take more. Benadryl helps, but it has to be capsule or liquigel. Tablets take too long to get into my system. I’ve also had to take sleeping meds to help. Today it was triggered by stress, but good luck controlling that. Been off for couple weeks and refuse to go back on that stupid drug!

I took Zyrtec for 2 years on the advice of my allergist. I stopped two and a half years ago. I started itching all over the abdomen area and on my forehead and hairline. It’s still itching to this day. For relief, I started using frankincense essential oil. It stops the itching for quite a few hours. I usually rub the oil on morning and night. It was just by chance that I started using frankincense. I became interested in the essential oils. After reading up on some of the oils, I saw that frankincense was good for my skin. I had been having a problem with 2 sores flaring up in my nose, which I think is caused by something internal in my nose. Well I rubbed the oil in my nostril, and honest to goodness the pain and sores disappeared in a few hours. I tried it again on a sore, and it did the same thing (cleared up). Thank you, frankincense!

I am 22 days off of Zyrtec cold turkey and still have minor itching. Now usually palms or feet. To get me through the unbearable withdrawal I mixed 10 to 12 drops of tea tree oil in 2 tablespoons of coconut oil and slathered it all over my body. It instantly soothes the skin, but sometimes insane itching would return in a few minutes. Diet has a lot to do with intensifying the itching. Avoid high histamine foods such as beans, pickles, green olives, kombucha, buttermilk, cheese, dairy, tomatoes, mushrooms, canned salmon or tuna, bacon, sausage (cured meat) and my favorite …. hot sauce!

Also avoid artificial dyes. Those are some of the foods I was eating everyday. Google high histamine foods and avoid them. Changing my diet and avoiding vinegar based foods decreased the itch in one day. (Before figuring this out I had a can of tuna and itched for 2 days straight with major anxiety).

Each outbreak has become less severe. Also hydrocortisone cream helps defensive the itchy spot but doesn’t always stop it. I ditched the tapering idea because I felt putting it back into my system even a tiny bit was feeding the addiction. Good luck to everyone dealing with this, you will get through it!

Solution: Taper. I experienced this too and my solution was to start cutting the pills in half and taking just 5mg instead of 10mg. 5mg worked just as well for me, and when I ran out, I did not have the same awful itching. Unfortunately my allergies came back with a vengeance recently, so I’m back on it. Never the less…

Thanks for the opportunity to be of service. I, too, have suffered from the results of taking Zyrtec-like pills of years, and gladly share my discovery of topical DMSO (70% potency). I learned about this directly from its discoverer

—Dr. Stanley Jacob, at Oregon State University. He died about 3 years ago, and many patients like me bless him every day. You can get this product from Jacob Laboratory in Portland through Google. Giving the right priority to stressful issues in one’s life also helps, and (but not least), using Edgar Cayce’s well-known Castor Oil packs following his directions.
Wishing you peace and health,

I was prescribed Zyrtec/cetirizine when I developed a bad case of hives. No one could figure out why I started getting hives, but I was told to take as much as 4 tablets of Zyrtec a day to control them. I would get relief from the hives, but also developed a slightly different kind of itch. In my case that itching increased the more I Zyrtec I took. Finally a wise nurse practitioner suggested I try avoiding gluten, and that greatly diminished the hives. At that point it became apparent that the drug was causing me a different kind of itch, despite pharmacists, dermatologists, and immunologists insisting it was perfectly safe to use 4 tabs a day. I started tapering the drug, eventually getting down to a quarter tab a day with only mild itching. Now I avoid it altogether and avoid gluten and have no itching.

This Zyrtec itching is particularly maddening when the drug is prescribed to control itching in the first place. Why doctors and regulators dismiss this itching is also maddening, when it’s a real side effect for some of us. Thank you for this helpful forum and broadcast.

I been taking Zyrtec for about 5 years on and off, its the only thing that seems to work for me. But i don’t like the side effects of dry mouth, stomach pain, trouble sleeping, and ringing in the ears. so i only take it seasonally in 1-2 day increments. This year i had to increase it to 4-5 days because of my allergies. I started to get the itch- It is unbearable around my mouth, nose, and neck – it happens the worst for me at night. I am currently not taken Zyrtec- its maybe over 2 months. I rarely feel the itch now, or at least it doesn’t keep me up at night.

I took cetirizine daily for over a year and experienced no rebound itching when I stopped. Also no itching if I skipped a day or a few days.

I stopped taking Zyrtec and could not restart, as I had to be clear of it for allergy testing. I have a great respect for people who are withdrawing from drugs. I wore sleeveless shirts. I used calamine lotion, OTC anti-itch cream, witch hazel, and freezer packs. It was the longest 10 days I’ve spent, ever. The freezer packs worked the best. My work station is near a floor unit air conditioner; I turned it turned to 66. My co-workers understood.

I’ve always itched like crazy by day 3 if I stop Zyrtec. I weaned myself by 3/4 for several days, then 1/2 for several more & finally 1/4. My Pulmonologist said he never recommends this medication because it is too sedating even if taken at night. He recommends the 24-hour generic for Allegra. It’s true, I’m way less tired.

Last week, I decided to stop automatically taking zyrtec daily. Wait and see if I really needed it. Terrible itching, deep in my hands. Prevented sleep. Took a zyrtec the next day, and itch disappeared.

i will try tapering off, but what to substitute when allergies get bad?

I take generic allegra (fexofenadine). The same thing happened to me when I stopped taking it. The itch was terrible, but there was no rash. I thought I was going crzy. I used OTC cortisone cream and capsaseim cream, that relieved the itch for about 2 hours. Both OTC creams said to use it only twice a day – I had to use it every 2-3 hours. The itch would even wake me up at night!! I gave up and went back on the fexofenadine

I have been using Zyrtec for a very long time. At one point, I had to get off of it because I was getting allergy skin tests for food issues. After one day, the itching was unbearable. In addition to that, all of my skin tests came back normal! I know I have allergies, they have been confirmed in the past. So, in addition to the itching, I think the anti-histamine stays in your body as well…….. Right now I take 1/2 dose, only when needed. I plan to discontinue soon.

I took cetirizine (hope I spelled it correctly) because I couldn’t stop clearing my throat. I read the side effects, one was itch. I thought I could handle that. But, when your scalp, forehead, even your nostrils and tongue itch after I stopped taking it, I knew I’d made a good decision to stop. If only I had avoided it altogether. I haven’t taken this drug for over 2 years, still I itch. My eyebrows itch, too.

I also took Zyrtec for years and had no itching at all when I stopped taking it. I was having the occasional bad episodes of food allergies and my Doctor thought to try Zyrtec as a last resort.. After years on the drug and no further episodes I just stopped taking it.

Quite obviously this drug is habit forming and should be labeled accordingly. Many drugs fall into this category, and this one should be handled the same way.

Clarinex did the same thing to me. I was on it for years and years. I slowly weaned myself off of it by breaking the pills in half and taking half for a while, then skipping a day in between, then longer. I itched, but it wasn’t too bad that way. I took Benadryl for the bad days.

My children took Zyrtec and Clarinex also, and they also itched coming off of it.

I had this problem too with no help from doctors who had never heard of this. Every time I tried to stop Zyrtec I would get extreme itching in my hands. I had to gradually wean off the medicine by 1 pill every other day, then every two days, etc. I took Benadryl at night and eventually got off the drug. I will never go back on it.

I discovered that same horrible itching side effect when I attempted to come off of Zyrtec several years ago. My gastroenterologist recommended I stop taking, as it contributes to constipation more than similar drugs. The itching was terrible, and I’d been off it for 4-5 days when I read that itching could be a side effect. They should really put this on the medication. I found it on a web site (perhaps yours) after searching. I now use Flonase regularly and Claritin only on occasion. I also recommend stopping the Flonase for 1 week every 3 months. Give the body a rest from drugs whenever possible!

I had been taking Zyrtec daily for ten years when I decided to try to get off of it because of articles in this newsletter. I started using NasalCrom, a natural antihistamine, twice a day while still taking Zyrtec for the first few days. Then I stopped the Zyrtec and had no ms with itching. Got the NasalCrom online. Worked great for me.

Zyrtez caused horrid itching! I had only taken it a short time; when I stopped I began itching out of control. I took Epsom salt and baking soda baths everyday for a week. I will never touch that medication again.

Good for you. I ordered nasalCrom online and used it as directed for 2 months and it did absolutely nothing for me. Just a waste of money and I now see why many drug stores don’t carry it.

I was taking zyrtec daily and then read your articles on the itching when stopping. I stopped it, but weaned off of it slowly. Only took me about 2 weeks to end it. When I mention this to a pharmacist they are totally unaware of the issue.

I took Zyrtec for about 10 years and had the same problems; miss even 1 or 2 days and you literally felt like bugs were crawling on your body. Since so much is in the news about the possible/probable connection of antihistamines and various forms of dementia I wanted off. I tapered off by cutting the pills, taking 3/4 for a several days to a week then 1/2, then 1/4 and finally 1/8 with each step at least 3-4 days to a week then at the end taking the 1/8th every other day for a week or so.

It was worth it and even though my allergies right now are bad no way will I go there again.

I had to come off levocetirizine (Xyzal) and I itched for almost a full 6 months or more! I had been on it for years. I was not able to wean myself off as I itched just as bad… I was so bad I dug sores in my arms and the doctors would NOT give me corticosteroids… I was miserable… (I also have Lyme disease so steroids feeds the Lyme) the only place I itched so bad was my arms. I now have bad scars on both arms from it.

If only I had known!!! FDA I’m furious with you!!!!! Take responsibility for a change!!!!!!

I had the same side affect from generic Zyzal. I hate that anyone else is going through this, but it helps to know that I will get better. It’s terrible.

I had the itching crap. Also took a long time to stop.

I had a similar experience with a different drug – Zantac generic. I was carefully weaning myself off proton pump inhibitors as per Peoples Pharmacy recommendations, filling in later stages of rebound reflux with Zantac. I ran out, and carelessly replaced it with a half-strength package. Suddenly, I was getting hives and unbearable itching in the evenings that would disappear in the morning, only to repeat. This event was sandwiched in between a tooth extraction on Monday and cancer surgery scheduled for Friday. And I was worried it was a reaction to the only new thing – the painkillers from the dental surgery. The doctors had no clue what was going on.

I finally figured out that this class of drugs, used for stomach acid, is an H2 inhibitor, with the H being histamine. Every evening my (lower) dose of histamine blocker would wear off, and the rashes would erupt, to disappear with my morning Zantac.

I’m sharing this now because I wonder if it could be applied in reverse for Zyrtec withdrawal sufferers – would taking a (maximum strength!) Zantac be at all helpful easing Zyrtec withdrawal? It’s certainly less sedating than Benadryl

I took Zyrtec for several years and had no problem discontinuing it. I got allergy shots for many years and only take it as needed now.

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