The People's Perspective on Medicine

Unbearable Itching from Cetirizine Withdrawal

Q. I took the antihistamine cetirizine for allergies for three years. I stopped abruptly last summer and promptly began itching all over. I have been going to a dermatologist ever since. I was treated for scabies and used permethrin cream three times and ivermectin twice. Nothing helped.

As a last resort, the dermatologist told me to use CeraVe cream and go back on cetirizine. Within two days the itching stopped. My niece, an MD, told me that I had gone though withdrawal. I’m relieved the problem seems to be solved. If I have to, I’ll take cetirizine for the rest of my life to keep from itching.

A. Intractable itching is not listed on the label as a reaction to cetirizine withdrawal, but we have received scores of reports on this topic. Many people have found that stopping cetirizine (Zyrtec) leads to unbearable itching.

One reader said, “I have been off Zyrtec for six or seven weeks. At first, the itching was awful. I would scratch until my skin turned bright red. Gradually the itch came less often, and I got through it.” You’ll find more such stories at www.peoplespharmacy.com.

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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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    Glad I found these comments! I’ve been taking 20 mg Cetirizine daily for 18 years to control allergies. It has worked well to keep them at bay. Recently I’ve been going through some other medical issues / testing and decided to stop taking it to see how I am. 3 days I had no symptoms but then the itching started EVERYWHERE! I didn’t link the two until today and now that I’ve read these comments it makes sense. I think I’ll try the half pills for a while to see if it helps! Thanks everyone!

    I have had allergies to many things all my life and have taken Zyrtec inconsistently for as long as I can remember! Years ago I started noticing my skin would get red, look inflamed and get itchy when I would change my clothes or rub against something. I thought I was just having a reaction to something but after reading the above remarks I now know it was the Zyrtec if I missed a day or 2. I spoke with my Chiropractor/Kinesiologist a week ago and he mentioned the Zyrtec link to my skin problem. I stopped cold turkey that day and the itching hives have been horrible. I’m hoping it takes only another week to get relief! Thank you everyone for sharing your information!

    My 15 year old daughter has been crying when passing urine. She has severe brain damage and cannot walk talk or see. We went through all the tests for infections etc. and then I read that this was a rare side effect. Luckily she has only been taking this drug for 4 months. But if she was having this side effect, what others that she cant’t articulate to me. I have replaced this drug with clarityn to help alleviate any itching also to help the hayfever. Hayfever can get on her chest and she can actually die of a chest infection. Being immobile.. Any advice?

    Successfully withdrew from cetirizine. Not exactly a withdrawal, but more properly called a ‘rebound.’ I took 10mg of cetirizine daily for approximately a year. Every time I got off of it, 72 hrs later I would itch like crazy and had to take more to make it stop. So what eventually worked for me was tapering. I would break a 10mg pill in half, and every three days when the itching started I would take the large half of the pill (aprox 6mg) since they don’t break evenly.
    After about 2 weeks of that, I switched to only taking the smaller half (approx 4mg). This gradual approach took just over a month, and 72 hours after my last dose I did begin to itch, but not nearly as badly as when I rebounded off of the whole 10mg dose. After another 2 days of being cetirizine free, the bad itching was gone. Weeks later I do occasionally get a small itch, but it is intermittent and not very intense.
    The tapering method works. It will cause your post-drug itch intensity to be significantly lower. So when you recover from a 10mg dose, you will itch like crazy. When you recover from the 4mg dose, it’s not nearly so bad. Take your time and get off of it. There’s no need to rush. This worked for me.

    I was so happy to find these comments! I started Levocitirizine last December for mild indoor allergies. After a year I decided I wasn’t really any better off with itchy eyes and sniffles so stopped. That’s when the itching started. Thought it was my soap, detergent, etc. Rather than renew this prescription switched to otc Zyrtec. It got rid of the itching alright but I can tell the minute it wears off. I am itchy all over! Much like others. I will try half doses. Tried every other day already, not possible to get through the day at work without it.

    I’ve been on certrizine for over a year to try and deal with hives. My dermatologist said that after three months I could stop but when I tried the hives and itching came back. A year later I am now trying to stop again and having read that severe itching is a withdrawal side effect I am trying to “muscle” through. It’s awful! I’ve been trying colodial silver with a little bit of success to ease the itching… Hoping it gets better soon,

    Just figured I’d chime in. I ran out and was feeling pretty good so I figured I’d stop until I needed it again. Mostly it’s my palms that itch but I get it else where too. It definitely comes and goes. I feel bad for the folks who report some of the symptoms that are much worse than mine. I’ve got to say that the stuff does a great job but it would be nice to have known that this was part of the package.

    I only took the walmart brand for 2 weeks and stopped 4 days ago. I don’t have much itching but I do have severe nausea and dizziness. I also started noticing a jittery feeling or shaking, like I needed to eat or my blood sugar was low. I most definitely will never try this medicine again. It seemed like it helped but its not worth the awful taste and smell when I was taking it and the side effects when I stopped taking it… :(

    I started taking cetirizine 4 years ago for the hives I was experiencing. It cleared up the hives alright, but every time I tried to stop taking this anti histamine, I would get soooo itchy. I assumed it was the hives returning, so I quickly took another pill.
    Years went by and I was tired of taking it, so I decided to stop cold turkey two and a half weeks ago. Omg…I’ve never been so itchy in my whole life. The withdrawal from this drug is awful. I am now on day 18 without it. The first 12 days were almost unbearable. I had hardly any sleep at all and scratched myself so badly at times, that I bled.
    The incredible high heat and humidity of the last few weeks didn’t help either, making the urge the scratch even worse. Over time, I have come to realize cold baths and showers a few times each day have helped soothe my body. My hands and feet seemed the most itchy, especially between my fingers and toes, where it was hardest to scratch. I sleep with ice packs in the bed, to cool my sheets and sit in front of fans during the day.
    Unfortunately, I don’t have air conditioning, so I have spent as much time as I could in my car or in malls to take advantage of the cooler air, there. If I could, I’d sleep in a meat locker, to reduce the agony. I know this sounds like an exaggeration, but believe me… it’s not. I’ve never experienced anything like this before. It’s all I can do, to not scratch my skin right off. I read in a blog a few days ago that 3 weeks seems to be the time it takes before I start to feel better. Three more days…geez…I hope I can make it!!
    I wish I had never started taking this drug. There were no warnings what so ever about any withdrawal symptoms! When my husband sees me crying and feeling so depressed, he wants to punch a wall, because there’s nothing he can do to help me. Forget a wall…I want to punch the guy who invented this stuff!!!

    Wow! Thank you so much for addressing this. I thought it was just me. I had started taking Zyrtec back in 2003 and then the generic form once it became available over the counter. In January 2012, I stopped taking it cold turkey after missing a couple of morning doses. Found that I didn’t need it after all. The week I stopped, the palms of my hands were redder than normal and they itched. It lasted about 4 to 5 days, then it was over. I had a feeling it was due to stopping cetirizine, but now your article confirmed it.

    I took zyrtec for many years (both brand name and generic) for allergies. A couple months ago I decided to go off of it ‘cold turkey’ and I was miserable for a full two weeks. The itching was uncontrollable… and scratching made everything worse. I did find a little relief by putting ice packs on my body when I itched, taking Quercetin several times a day, going for acupuncture 2x week, yoga/meditation several times a week, and by slathering Sarna cream all over my body.
    It was total torture going off this drug, but I would highly recommend it!!
    For the spring allergies when pollen levels are off the charts I do use a nasal spray and sometimes have to take an advil & sudafed for headaches.

    Been there, done this…! Having taken cetirizine daily over many years, when I decided to stop I did not realise at first that was the cause of the itching. If you persevere, it will – eventually – stop :)

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