Woman scratching itchy arm, poison ivy remedy, the Zyrtec itch

This website is devoted to helping people make informed decisions about their health. To do that, people need information from health professionals and other patients. Over the years millions of people have visited this site and many have shared their experiences with home remedies, prescription medications or over-the-counter drugs. Every once in awhile we learn about an unusual reaction that has not been published in the official prescribing information sanctioned by the FDA. Such was the case with unbearable itching associated with a very popular antihistamine. Despite our best efforts to uncover some reference to such a reaction, all we had were case reports…until now.

Unbearable Itching and Xyzal (Levocetirizine):

Q. I tried to stop Xyzal after taking it for ten years for allergies. Every time I stopped, I’d itch like crazy and break out in hives. I thought I was nuts!

I am petite and have gained over 15 pounds since I’ve been on the medicine. I really believe this steady weight gain is due to this medicine. Is there any way to get free of taking it? Whenever I try to stop I feel like I can’t live without it.

A. We first heard about unbearable itching as a withdrawal symptom from the antihistamine cetirizine (Zyrtec) almost a decade ago.

D.J. wrote to say:

“I recently had to take a generic Zyrtec (cetirizine) for allergies. I stopped taking it a few days ago, when the pollen count went down.

“With other allergy meds, there were no after effects. This generic cetirizine seemed like a wonder drug to me. Until — one day after I stopped taking it, I had itchy skin with small red bumps. I’ve never had hives, but I’ve heard about them, and I’m pretty sure that’s what I have. I cannot sleep in my bed because lying down seems to make it worse.

“I itch twenty-four hours a day. After eliminating everything else I could think of, I thought about my new, wonderful allergy medicine. I did a search on the web to see if others had the same problem, and many posted comments that echoed my complaints. Some resumed the Zyrtec and their symptoms immediately disappeared.

“Have you heard anything about these withdrawal ‘pains’ of Zyrtec and its generic equivalents? Today is Day 4 since I stopped, and I’m still itching. I am determined not to go back on the medicine, but I am basically a miserable insomniac right now. I will be calling my doctor tomorrow to see if there is something other than Zyrtec that I can take to eliminate the symptoms.”

We did not have a good response for D.J. or the hundreds of other people who have described a similar problem on our website. The stories were quite similar. We published this case report in our syndicated newspaper column back in May, 2010:

Q. I have had terrible trouble trying to stop taking Zyrtec (the generic is cetirizine). After using this antihistamine for about three years while having allergy shots, I first attempted to stop taking it in preparation for allergy testing. 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.

Today while I was researching this problem online, I found a community of thousands of people who have had the same problems I have. There should be better warnings about this withdrawal problem.

We notified the FDA about all the reports we were receiving about withdrawal itching, but have seen no response. When we searched the medical literature for accounts of withdrawal reactions, we found nothing about cetirizine and unbearable itching after stopping the antihistamine.

At Last, Scientific Support Appears:

Xyzal is a closely related medication to Zyrtec. As mentioned, the generic name for the Zyrtec antihistamine is cetirizine (su-TEER-a-zeen). The generic name for Xyzal is (levo)cetirizine. We are not surprised that it too produced unbearable itch when stopped suddenly.

We were gratified to discover that an alert reader (B.) posted this to PeoplesPharmacy.com:

“I found a link to a peer-reviewed medical journal article about unbearable itching after Xyzal or Zyrtec withdrawal. Here is the explanation:

‘Long-term treatment with antihistamines can decrease H1R gene expression to the basal level. It is hypothesised that after stopping long-term treatment, H1R blockade disappears relatively fast (the half-life of (levo)cetirizine is 6-10 h). In the presence of histamine, this can lead to occupancy of the H1R and because the number of H1R was down-regulated owing to long-term treatment, a relatively high percentage of H1R will be occupied with histamine, possibly resulting in itch.’

“I hope this scientific explanation and the case reports that went with it make all of us feel less crazy. Zyrtec ought to have a warning label on the bottle. This is a serious mental and physical health issue.”

The journal article our reader cited is in Drug Safety Case Reports, Dec. 2016.

The People’s Pharmacy Makes It Into the Medical Literature:

In the discussion section of this scientific article we were surprised and delighted to read the following:

“Pruritus [itching] is a common symptom that is experienced by all humans at some point in life. It occurs in a diverse range of skin diseases and may affect the skin, mucous membranes and cornea. The frequent occurrence of pruritus is supported by the results of epidemiological studies that found the prevalence of pruritus in the general population was approximately 8 percent.

“Unbearable itch after withdrawal of antihistamines is not a common phenomenon. A PubMed search revealed no published reports of this association. However, there has been extensive discussion about the occurrence of pruritus after withdrawal of (levo)cetirizine on several patient forums and blogs.”

One of the patient forums/blogs that was cited was an article on our site with 98 comments.

The authors of the research paper conclude:

“Based on the cases reported to the Netherlands Pharmacovigilance Centre Lareb, we suggest a causal relation between withdrawal of (levo)cetirizine and the occurrence of unbearable pruritus…Healthcare professionals should be aware that in some patients this reaction can occur. Gradually reducing the dose of the (levo)cetirizine or a short course of corticosteroids might help in withdrawing the antihistamine.”

What Do Patients Need to Know:

We wish that the FDA would require some mention of unbearable itching as a potential adverse reaction after stopping either cetirizine or (levy)cetirizine. That way people would be aware of this possibility before starting treatment with such antihistamines. We would also hope that the FDA would require some testing to determine the best way to discontinue these drugs without triggering a rebound itch reaction. If you, our readers, have ever experienced such a reaction, please report it to the FDA via the Medwatch portal. If enough people contact the agency there is a possibility that the labeling will be changed.

Here are just two articles with hundreds of comments about this reaction:

Cetirizine (su-TEER-a-zeen)

Itching from Cetirizine Withdrawal

 

 

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  1. Maribel P.
    Tampa
    Reply

    I have bad allergies so I started to take Benadryl, and when I went to stop taking it I started to itch real bad to the point of almost crying. It was horrible! I went to an allergist, and they gave me Allegra in the morning and Benadryl at night. Otherwise I will itch all day! So now it’s worse. HELP, PLEASE!!!!!

  2. Anna Maria C.
    Oregon
    Reply

    I’ve been on Zyrtec/cetirizine for 18 years. I started it when I went to the doctor for itchy hives on my thighs. He prescribed Zyrtec, and it solved that issue for the most part. I’ve always had sensitive skin, asthma and allergies to animals, dust mites, pollens, etc. So when I run out for even a day now the itching starts, usually in my hands/fingers and then scalp, neck and then everywhere. I’ve never gone more than 3 or 4 days without caving and getting back on it. And I can’t tell you how many doctors have told me the itching had nothing to do with the antihistamines. They all say it is not addictive. They are WRONG.

    I just hope that long-term use isn’t slowly damaging me somehow. I really don’t see how I can survive without it. And that last sentence is very scary to me.

  3. Ann
    Troy, MI
    Reply

    After several years of taking OTC antihistamine (either Zyrtec or Claritin) every day to control allergic rhinitis, I stopped taking it three days ago. Nothing I’ve ever been told by my doctor or read online suggested there would be any issue with discontinuing use, other than that my allergic rhinitis symptoms would obviously return.

    However, on the second day after I stopped taking it, I began experiencing severe itching all over my body. It upsets me that neither my doctor nor any of the resources online (other than this website) seem aware this is a serious side effect of discontinuing antihistamines after long term use. This just further reinforces my opinion that some doctors have no idea what they are doing.

  4. Deb55
    Wisconsin
    Reply

    My husband was put on an antihistamine by a well meaning doctor for a chronic upper respiratory condition. He was on it for a month, until I told him recent studies linked it to an increased risk to dementia. He stopped almost three months ago and the itching and welting continues. Maybe I missed something, but is there anything to stop this besides more drugs? How long did you all have to tough it out before it stopped. He is 63 yrs old. I feel so bad for him.

  5. Brad
    Florida
    Reply

    I had the same reaction, but with Claritin. I had taken it for several months, but stopped around September of last year. Almost immediately after stopping the medication, I began itching everywhere- the most intense being between my fingers and the upper part of my legs. I tried anti-itch creams, but to no avail. I then went online to find out how to cure it, only to stumble upon a website that said taking an antihistamine, like Claritin, would stop the itching.

    I then put two and two together and realized the itching was because I had stopped the Claritin, and as soon as I got back on it, it almost immediately went away. I’ve now decided to try of go off it again, and the itching has returned. It doesn’t seem to be as severe as it was previously, but it is still pretty unbearable.

    My doctor prescribed Flonase and said I should take both Claritin AND Flonase, which I don’t think is the answer to this issue. I’m hoping to spread out the dosages little by little in the hopes of weaning myself off of these medications. I am glad to have found this site to know that I’m not alone!

  6. Al
    Cardiff
    Reply

    I too decided to stop taking Cetrizine yesterday, after taking it for over ten years. I did so because I started experiencing stomach pains every time I took it. After a sleepless night with all-over itching I came online (5.30am) to find this disturbing list of comments. My itching is mainly on hands, neck, head and arms. There is a redness but no rash. I shall be hoping for a decrease in my joint pain and stiffness, which I had not previously associated with Cetrizine. My general practitioner recently referred to Cetrizine as a ‘cleaner’ drug, with fewer side effects than Piriton, but that is clearly arguable, given these cases. My stomach pain is gone. So far, so good. I shall never return to Cetrizine. It is a ‘dirty’ drug in my book, and I will spread my message to my GP and others.

  7. Rose
    CA
    Reply

    I decided to stop Cetirizine and zyrtec after 16 plus years due to stiff joints which were painful. I was in pain everyday and was convinced I had arthritis. It has been 5 days and the itching is still horrible however the joint pain and stiffness is decreasing.

  8. Denice
    Texas
    Reply

    I stopped taking levocetirizine (which I’d been taking for about 3 years specifically for itching) 5 nights ago, and for 4 days have had the unbearable itching all over! Usually, I titrate off of any medication, but thought I was safe since there were no precautions or warnings in any of the literature I could find (print and online). I’m glad I found “you” so I can add my voice to the others experiencing the same thing, and so I know I’m not crazy or alone in this situation. Thank you. I intend to continue to let others know about the potential problem and to look for ways to reach the “powers that be” to encourage them to publicize a precaution.

  9. Rowan
    Florida
    Reply

    I took Zyrtec for just over a year. I would get bad headaches and realized they were allergy related. I was so happy about the results I was getting from Zyrtec until I tried to stop taking it. It took a solid month before the itching stopped. It was terrible. I felt like one of those junkies going through withdrawal you see on tv shows. A solid month like this.

    I tried other allergy medications. Claritin seemed to work ok, but I wasn’t about to take more than necessary. Allegra didn’t work for me at all. My friend suggested Xyzal. I bought a small pack, and it worked great. I was clear, and my sinuses felt dry. About 5 days later, I decided to stop taking it because the pollen count went down, and it was raining regularly. Lo and behold, the itching came back. Only when I started searching the web did I realize that there were similar ingredients in Zyrtec and Xyzal.

    It was pretty unfortunate for me, but hopefully this will prevent someone from suffering with the itching that I experienced.

    • Divyang
      Gujarat
      Reply

      So is it possible to stop levocitrizine tablet. I am also taking it since 10 years and fed of it. Can I stop it when I stop itching starts. After how many days itching completely stops without taking any other medication.

  10. Jean S
    Fl
    Reply

    I have found that I have a similar reaction when I do not take my nasal spray (olopatadine hydrochloride) at night. I started taking it to control waking up with sinus headaches, which it has done very well. This past year I have found that I often wake up with a rash and sever itching on my arms . After eliminating all new meds and foods and other things I could have come in contact with I have come to find that it only happens when I dont to take the nasal spray either because I forget or the headaches have subsided. I thunk this is a similar reaction as described on this site A reaction occurring after stopping an antihistimine

    • Candy S
      Grand prairie,tx
      Reply

      So glad I found this out,thought I was crazy. Same thing here when I stop taking the meds I itch horribly, what can a person do. I can’t handle the itching, so I take another pill. Pls give me some advice, I don’t want to do this forever.

      • Toni
        Reply

        Having heard many warnings about the need for a gradual withdrawal from Zyrtec, I began a very gradual withdrawal about 2 months ago after I realized it was contributing to my dry eye syndrome. I am down to one half tablet twice a week! Discovered last week that quitting completely still led to itching. Luckily the tablets can be split easily.

  11. Lori
    TX
    Reply

    I used Zyrtec for several years and it was not working any longer so I decided to get off of it. I had the horrible itching also! I did take Benadryl to help alleviate the itching and after a few weeks it finally went away. Two years later I am having problems again so I decided to try Xyzal. I have taken 7 tablets (I only took 1/2 a day) over a month period. I did not take every day but there were 3 or 4 days that I took in a row. I am now itching all over again! I did not know Xyzal would do that nor did I think taking such a low dose and not taking on a regular basis would cause these problems! I think I will suffer with my allergies from now on! I tell everyone I know that takes Zyrtec about this but they look at me like I am crazy! Now I guess I will add xyzal to the list!

  12. Kim
    Dallas
    Reply

    I was shocked and relieved to see others going through the same reactions as myself.

    I’ve been on Xyzal and Benadryl for years. After deciding to go to an allergist and being told to go off any antihistamines for 7 days before testing, I quit cold turkey, not expecting much more than stuffy nose and watery eyes.

    By day two I was experiencing the expected allergic reactions to cat dander and my other pollen and mold allergies. Then came the entire body rash and itching. Hands, feet, and arms first, then all over my body. Scratching so hard it leads to welts and swelling. I still have 4 days to go before my testing. I refuse to go back on any oral allergy medications again. I will ride this through and hope that the allergy shots will help. I had no idea that I had become so addicted to my allergy medications and what they have been doing to my body.

  13. Cal
    Winter Park, FL
    Reply

    After going off Xyzal for 7 days to prepare for an allergy test, I was overwhelmed with painful itching from my head to my toes beginning on the 3rd day of not taking the medication. My entire body felt like a million ants were crawling all over me and biting me. I have dermographism and I believe this exacerbated the reaction, only a guess. The surface of my skin became hot and tingly with pain and relentless itching. I was in misery as even the inside of my mouth, ears, and all other areas were in such terrible discomfort. NO relief.

    I showered, drank more water, wore cotton…nothing relieved the pain and itching. Anything I touched would make it worse. Through the nights and the days I suffered and was going insane with pain and constant itching. I was able to take 1 Xyzal after my test. The itching and pain stopped within an hour. I came on line because my nurse offered NO explanation because my allergy test showed NO allergies and my skin was hydrated. I will now attempt to wean myself off. I have no access to steroids.

  14. Wyn
    California
    Reply

    I have allergies and a well intentioned doctor prescribed Zyrtec. I took it for weeks then tried to get off it. I experienced the itchy withdrawal for days. Worse I now have increased histamine reaction and experience more itchiness than I ever did before when I take other meds. Now I can’t take any antihistamine. They all make me itch. It is like Zyrtec increased my sensitivity to histamine. This med is bad news.

    Also most allergists won’t believe you when you report itchiness to antihistamines. They think it is allergies but they are wrong

  15. Susie Q
    Michigan
    Reply

    I too am trying to get off Allegra after at least 8 years. The itching is unbearable. The pharmacist said it was not likely the Allegra and it won’t hurt me to take it the rest of my life! Do I need steroids?

  16. Heather
    Reply

    I found this after searching for if allergies cause itchy skin. I just came off Xyzal a few days ago and my skin itches like crazy, especially my scalp. When my face touches my pillow it itches, making it hard to sleep. I noticed this a couple weeks ago when I went off it, and the itching disappeared when I went back on. I thought it meant allergies were causing my itching, but now I see that it’s because of the Xyzal withdrawal! I’m trying to switch to quercetin, but so far it’s not helping. I’m glad to read the suggestion to take Benadryl at night, hopefully I’ll be able to sleep tonight.

  17. Clara
    United Kingdom
    Reply

    So glad to come across this article. I never had any problems with my skin when growing up. However, I always had seasonal allergies to pollen etc. I would take fexofenadine or cetirizine for the symptoms but only during this 3-4 month period. At 21, I randomly developed itchy skin (no rash or marks, only the feeling of being itchy). I went to my Dr and was told to take cetrizine daily. This helped the itching. However, a few weeks ago I realised I had been taking this medication for 4 years. I tried a few times to come off of it but my itching always returned within 48 hours, and it was always unbearable, keeping me awake at night. I had a look into the effects of long-term use of antihistamines and decided to try to come off them again, as it doesn’t seem helpful for your immune system to be on this medication forever. I have been off them now for 5 days and have had some itching. However, most is in my scalp rather than my body this time. I am so thankful that I am coping without the medication and hoping my symptoms will go completely, as I was horrified to read that most people experience the same problems.

  18. Julia
    Denver, CO
    Reply

    I’ve been on Zyrtec for nearly 10 years and thought I had developed some sort of skin condition like Urticaria, because every time I went off of it I would start itching all over. Thank you for this post! I’ve been off Zyrtec now for 2 weeks– still a little bit itchy but it’s getting better and less frequent. I used 90 mg of Allegra daily as needed for unbearable itching, which has just happened once. A hot shower helps too! I’ve been lucky as it hasn’t kept me up at night, but the itching has driven me crazy a couple of times.

    I find it insane and unsafe that there are no warnings about this on the bottle. Never again!

  19. Dana
    New York
    Reply

    I went through this with Zyrtec so my doctor switched me to Allegra this season and I’m suffering now with the HORRIBLE itching again for the past 2 weeks since I’ve stopped taking it. I feel like a crazy woman!!! My husband puts Icy Hot all over my back and it freezes it which sort of helps but this is insanity!

  20. Sonia C
    Franklin, TN.
    Reply

    Xyzal is the devil! After random reactions to food and chemicals, (I am allergic to hair dye!). My Allergist prescribed Xyzal for my daughter she is 11), and for me. I was happy to be able to take just one little pill in the morning and don’t have to worry about the annoying allergies.

    I was wrong… I gained 20 lbs in less than 2 years, I have mood swings and I am miserable. My daughter has anxiety. We stopped taking the medicine 6 days ago. The itchiness is horrible, but I want it out of our systems. I hope the allergist has and alternative solution. I am very unhappy with the side effects.

  21. Denise
    Greer, SC
    Reply

    I too had unbearable itching when I tried to stop taking ceterizine. Recently, I decided to take Sudafed instead ( the one you have to sign for even though it is OTC) and lo and behold, no itching. After a week or two, I quit taking the Sudafed, and have had no problems whatever. My husband suggested benadryl might work too, to get off ceterizine, but I haven’t tried it.

  22. Claw
    Texas
    Reply

    My 6 year old son dealt with this for several months. How I wish there were a warning label or that my doctor would have let me known this could happen!! It is so heartbreaking to watch a child in agony and to not know what to do about it!

  23. Cheri Collins
    California
    Reply

    I took Zyrtec for a long time while it was still a Rx drug. I didn’t have any problem when I stopped taking it. But for those who do, I would recommend trying diphenhydramine (Bfor sleep during the withdrawal period. A different antihistamine, it’s very effective for itch relief and for sleep.

  24. Anna
    Bethlehem, PA
    Reply

    I have read many times about the magic of soap under the bottom sheet curing leg cramps. Is there a particular brand used or recommended?
    Thank you. A

  25. Renee
    Morrisville, NC
    Reply

    I too, have experienced persistent itching after stopping Cetirizine before allergy testing. Try switching to Allegra for about a week before you want to stop taking antihistamines altogether. This worked for me…. no crazy itching!

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