After realising that there was a good chance that my daily dose of Zyrtec (10mg) was doing me more harm than good I decided stop taking it. Having read other peoples' experiences doing this I realised that there would be possibly be some withdrawal symptoms to go through. Knowing this I decided to reduce my dosage slowly before stopping it altogether. I didn't have a set plan for getting off Zyrtec, more of an outline, but one thing was set - once I was on the path of freeing myself from this drug there was no going back. I had read of other people giving up time and time again as the withdrawal symptoms became overwhelming so I resolved not to give in as it would only get harder and harder to stop as time went on.
Diary of Symptoms
Whilst quitting Zyrtec I made notes on my calendar of my daily symptoms. This was not comprehensive in any way and on reflection I wish I had kept a more detailed daily diary. That said, I don't think I could have managed that at the time as I was living hour to hour most days and barely able to manage as it was. I tended to only write down the unusual or extreme symptoms, for me having a few hives on my torso is not an event - in fact it can often go unnoticed. As a guide; If I write that I had hives on my arm then I am referring to an intense breakout, one that is unbearable and much worse than usual. If I am talking about having really bad hives then I was probably covered all over my body, with mentioned areas worse than others. The itching would have been completely unbearable and the welts bad enough looking that people around would recoil at the sight of them.
Things to Note
I do not experience headaches much at all. Maybe once or twice a year and they are usually directly attributable to not having drunk enough water or being tense (from clenching my jaw or something). I have experienced two migraines in my life (one about 10 years ago and the other about 4 years ago), both were caused by consumption of highly processed food (high in preservatives, food colours, flavour enhancers and other nasties) and both were so bad they caused me to lose my sight temporarily.
I do not have any problems with my sinuses. Any sinus problems or pain I have ever had has been during (or just after) a cold or flu. Correspondingly, I also have no problems with my eyes being itchy or watery except for the usual cold/flu response.
My hives are usually relatively small, ranging in size from 0.5cm diameter to up to 10cm. Usually they are about the size of a 10c or 20c piece (Australian coins).
I am a fairly light sleeper but usually sleep right through the night, waking early in the morning only if I am having a reaction (4am is classic lip/throat/tongue swelling time) or am disturbed by a noise (husband snoring etc). I don't have a lot of trouble getting to sleep unless I am stressed about something unusually stressful that will be happening the next day (exam etc). I have a fair amount of trouble waking in the morning especially when I have had a bad reaction the day before.
Week 1 - Day 1
I started on a Saturday. Instead of my usual whole pill, I cut it in half and took thereby effectively cutting my dosage down to 5mg. That day I experienced hives all over my body, with particularly bad hives on my right arm.
Week 1 - Day 2
The hives continued, worse than usual but not too bad to bear. Mostly they would just pop up in clusters in some place or another and annoy me for a while then disappear. However, to my surprise I experienced very bad sinus problems all day. I had an awful headache as well as a lot of pain through my sinuses and my nose was running continuously.
Week 1 - Days 3-7
The sinus trouble lessened on day three and was pretty much gone the rest of the week. My hives were worse than usual this week however, but I was not surprised at this. In fact I was quite relieved that I did not seem to be suffering too much at all from my decrease in dosage.
Week 2 - Days 1 & 2
I was away from home from the middle of Week 1 so was really testing myself as I was eating out each day and sleeping in a hotel room (think air fresheners, smelly toiletries in the bathroom, sheets washed in strong detergents and softners etc). Day 1 I got my period, which was annoying as it was only 16 days since my last period had stopped - the last period had been 8 days long and so heavy that I thought I was going to pass out at times so I had been hoping for a longer cycle than 24 days.
On Day 1 of Week 2 we went for a long walk through the Blue Mountains. It was very cold (by Australian standards - single digits temperature) and the walk could be quite strenous at times, both factors that can trigger hives in some people, but not usually myself. By the end of the day my legs were both covered (literally, there was no space on them without a hive) in a patchwork of hives ranging in size from small dots to up to 20cm in length. As time progressed a number of them sort of joined up to form larger welts. They were also on my torso and arms to a lesser degree. I spent the evening in a bath full of bicarb to soothe them. Day 2 was pretty average, I was basically recovering still from the hives on my legs which were still there in the morning but to a much lesser extent. They were pretty much gone by the evening.
Week 2 - Day 3 - No more Zyrtec!
On my tenth day, a Monday morning, in my rush to work (having flown back home the night before) I kinda forgot to take my half dose of Zyrtec. Not that I realised that until the end of the day mind you, thanks to my memory problems. I spent the entire day in misery wondering why I had a horrific headache (verging on a migraine, but not quite that severe) and was pretty much unable to function effectively because of it. When I realised that night that I had forgotten the Zyrtec I decided to push on with the next stage because I was damned if I was going to go through another god-awful day like that. That night the insomnia kicked in. I couldn't go to sleep, when I eventually did get to sleep it was not deep at all (in fact I was having very vivid and intense dreams in the short time I did spend asleep) and of course 4am is a GREAT time to wake up and be wide awake when you only just got to sleep at 2am.
Despite all of this I was happy. HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY. Oh so happy it was freaking me out completely. It was such a foreign feeling to feel content and positive. I was incredibly surprised at feeling this way and was petrified that it would stop. I was suspicious that I could have been feeling happy to have found a potential solution to my health problems and that was just riding on a temporary high but deep down I knew that this was a HUGE change for me and it felt like it was here to stay. I suddenly realised with great sadness that I had been completely depressed and had not felt any sort of happiness or contentment for well over a year.
Week 2 - Day 4
The sinus trouble was back with a vengance, this time complete with itchy and watery eyes, an itchy throat, swollen feet and bad hives. Not to forget the insomnia. But hey, I was still happy.
Week 2 - Day 5
More sinus problems, itchy watery eyes, hives and a swollen right foot. Yep, still couldn't sleep and getting tetchier by the minute - but still happy.
Week 2 - Day 6
This was the fun day that I finally found out what people on the internet were referring to when they said they had 'the itchies' or 'an intense itching' or 'terrible itching hives'. OH. MY. GOD. The itchies (as they will be known as from now on) make hives look like a walk in the park. They are different to hives in both feeling and appearance. The entire area affected (such as a forearm) swells deep under the skin making it red and swollen, there is an intense, constant deep itching which is never relieved. As a person with a very high tolerance (built from years of hives) to this kind of thing, I was amazed at how painful it was for me. I was scratching myself raw. You cannot begin to understand how awful they are unless you have experienced them directly yourself. The itchies brought with them a new level of misery to add to my days. This was in addition to a swollen bottom lip that I woke with, itchy eyes, mild sinus and the usual inability to sleep well at all. Being itchy all the time really didn't help with the whole not being able to sleep either.
Week 2 - Day 7
On the upside my period finished, it had been 6 days in total and a lot more normal (for me - lighter, less cramping) than the previous one. On the downside the itchies and bad hives continued unabated. I was absolutely miserable and the days were just an itchy, painful blur. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture. Sleep deprivation and constant intense burning, itchiness brings a whole new dimension to torture. Yet my mood was still elevated and positive at all times. My determination to push through surprised even myself. Despite all the pain there was NO WAY I was taking a Zyrtec. I can honestly say I never once felt tempted to take a pill and gain some temporary relief. I think the happiness I was experiencing off the Zyrtec helped a lot as it provided me with a major incentive not to go back onto it.
Week 3 - Day 1
The itchies continued unabated, as did the bad hives and I also had swollen feet that day and the insomnia continued - I couldn't get to sleep despite being exhausted and was waking every single morning at 4am. I was still in a good frame of mind, particularly considering the circumstances.
Week 3 - Day 2
See Week 3 - Day 1...
Week 3 - Day 3
The itchies were still there. The insomnia was still there but it was a particularly interesting 4am wakening as it was accompanied by my bottom lip being very painfully swollen. Later in the day my feet and fingers also swelled, a horrible experience I would not wish on my worst enemy. It was starting to crack me up how ironic the situation was, I was in constant pain had not slept right in over a week and yet was the happier than I had been in years.
Week 3 - Day 4
Bad hives, itchies on my right arm, insomnia. Still happy. Sound familiar?
Week 3 - Day 5
Now things get a bit more interesting. All I have written in my calendar for this day is 'bad nausea, felt really off all day'. I am sure that I was itchy at some point in the day with one thing or another (otherwise I would have noted with great surprise that I wasn't itchy in the calendar!). Oh yeah, and 'woke at 4am' is still there too.
Week 3 - Day 6
This day was a turning point for me. I felt very sick and nauseous in the morning and really struggled with fatigue - even more than normal. I ended up going home from work at lunchtime as I couldn't handle it all any more. I promptly karked it on the couch and slept very deeply for 3 hrs. When I woke up I felt really good, the nausea and fatigue were gone and I felt refreshed for once. That night I fell asleep quicker than the usual couple of hours it had been taking me to sleep, however I had very intense nightmares all night and woke the next morning with a swollen lip.
Week 3 - Day 7
Apart from the swollen lip the nausea was back. No mention of itchies in my calendar!
Week 4 - Day 1
Nausea and hives were what bothered me most this day.
Week 4 - Day 2
Mildly nauseous, swollen fingers and hand. No itchies or insomnia!
Week 4 - Days 3-5
Insomnia every night.
Week 4 - Day 6
Bad sinus trouble, Swollen eyes & hive on right eye.
Week 4 - Day 7
Anxious. Swelling in my fingers and feet. Hives on my right arm.
Week 5 - Day 1
Swelling in my throat - down the bottom of my throat. Constant burping, seems related to the throat swelling somewhat. Unable to get to sleep easily because of the burping. Bad case of hives develop on torso overnight.
Week 5 - Day 2
Hives still there. Burping mostly gone.
Week 5 - Day 3
Hives on thighs.
Week 5 - Day 4
Really bad hives on right arm. Insomnia.
Week 5 - Day 5
Wake up with swollen eyes, bad hives, tinnitus worse than usual & itchies on my left arm. Not a fun day. Insomnia that night.
Week 5 - Day 6
Hives and mild case of the itchies. Insomnia at night.
Week 5 - Day 7
Wake up with swollen eyes. Have hives and mild itchies during the day.
Week 6 - Day 1
A good day!!! Slept in late, felt good most of the day.
Week 6 - Day 2
Another good day. Got my period which is 4 days in length this cycle - much shorter and lighter than the previous two.
Week 6 - Days 3 - 7
Mostly just daily hives. Mild nausea on day 4.
Week 7 - Day 1
Week 7 - Day 2
Hives. Feeling a bit more down than usual - but just a temporary thing, still nowhere near the depression experienced whilst on Zyrtec.
Week 7 - Day 3 onwards....
The diary shows the odd days here and there of hives and nausea but bad days are getting less and less and more spread out. The itchies have disappeared completely as has the insomnia, depression, sinus, itchy eyes.
So all up I would say it took a good six weeks to withdraw completely from Zyrtec.