Cetirizine is a generic medication that you can buy without a prescription. It’s used to treat:
- itching due to urticaria (hives)
Some manufacturers only market cetirizine for one of these uses.
When bought without a prescription, cetirizine can be used in adults and children ages 6 years and older. Certain forms are also approved for use in children between ages 2 years to 5 years old.
Cetirizine is a type of drug called an antihistamine. It’s available over the counter (OTC). OTC means you can buy the medication without a doctor’s prescription.
OTC cetirizine comes in the following forms and strengths:
- oral tablet in strengths of 5 milligrams (mg) and 10 mg
- oral chewable tablet in strengths of 5 mg and 10 mg
- orally disintegrating tablet in a strength of 10 mg
- oral capsule in strengths of 5 mg and 10 mg
- oral solution in a strength of 5 mg in 5 milliliters (mL)
Cetirizine oral solution is also available with a prescription. This article does not cover that form. However, you can talk with your doctor to find out more.
Cetirizine is available in several brand-name versions. These include Zyrtec Allergy and Children’s Zyrtec Allergy. Other brand-name versions are Zyrtec Hives Relief and Children’s Zyrtec Hives Relief.
Cetirizine is a generic drug. A generic drug is an exact copy of the active drug in a brand-name medication. Zyrtec is the brand-name medication that cetirizine is based on. A generic is considered to be as safe and effective as the original drug. Generics tend to cost less than brand-name drugs.
If you’re interested in taking Zyrtec instead of cetirizine, talk with your doctor. They can tell you whether Zyrtec comes in forms and strengths that can be used for your condition. If you have insurance, you’ll also need to check whether your plan will cover Zyrtec.
To learn more about how generics compare with brand-name drugs, see this article.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves over-the-counter (OTC) drugs such as cetirizine to treat certain conditions. OTC means you can buy the medication without a doctor’s prescription.
Cetirizine for allergies
OTC forms of cetirizine are FDA-approved to treat:
- symptoms of respiratory allergies, such as hay fever, pet allergies, and dust mite allergies
- itching due to urticaria (hives)
OTC cetirizine can be used in adults and children ages 6 years and older. Certain forms are also approved for use in children between ages 2 years to 5 years old.
Allergies occur when your immune system overreacts to a substance that’s typically harmless. When this happens, cells in your immune system release histamine. Histamine is a chemical your body makes naturally that causes various inflammatory responses. These result in the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
Substances that cause allergies are called allergens. Examples of substances that can be allergens in some people include:
- grass or tree pollen
- mold spores
- pet dander
- dust mites
- insect venom
- certain foods, such as peanuts and milk
- certain plants, such as nettles and poison ivy
The symptoms you may have with an allergic reaction depend on which part of your body is exposed to the allergen.
With respiratory allergies such as hay fever and pet allergies, you breathe the allergen into your airways. This can cause symptoms such as an itchy nose or throat, sneezing, runny nose, or itchy, watery eyes. With hives, you have an allergic skin reaction, which causes a skin rash, often with itching. It can occur when you touch or consume an allergen.
Cetirizine is an antihistamine that blocks the inflammatory response caused by histamine. This relieves the symptoms of respiratory allergies and hives.
You can learn more about allergies in our asthma and allergies hub.
What cetirizine is not used for
It’s important to note that cetirizine will not work to prevent hives. You should not take it to help prevent an allergic skin reaction from happening.
Note that cetirizine is not approved to treat severe allergic reaction such as anaphylaxis. It will not work to treat this reaction. If you have a known risk of severe allergic reactions, your doctor will likely prescribe an epinephrine auto-injector, such as EpiPen. You’ll keep this with you at all times to treat severe allergic reactions if they occur.
You should not take cetirizine in place of epinephrine. If you have symptoms of a severe allergic reaction, use your epinephrine auto-injector and get emergency medical help right away.
Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction can include:
- itching or swelling of your face, lips, mouth, tongue, or throat
- trouble swallowing
- trouble breathing
- dizziness or fainting
If you are concerned about preventing hives or developing a severe allergic reaction, talk with your doctor.
Cetirizine and children
OTC cetirizine tablets are approved to treat allergies and hives in children ages 6 years and older. And OTC cetirizine solution is approved to treat allergies in children ages 2 years and older. To read more about this use, see “Cetirizine for allergies” just above.
Note: Doctors sometimes recommend or prescribe cetirizine to younger children. However, you should not give cetirizine tablets to children under 6 years old. And you should not give cetirizine solution to children under 2 years old. Only give your child these medications if they have been prescribed or recommended by your child’s doctor.
The following information describes over-the-counter (OTC) cetirizine dosages that are commonly used or recommended. OTC means you can buy the medication without a doctor’s prescription.
Adult dosage for allergies or hives
|Cetirizine for allergies or hives in adults|
|Forms||• oral tablet|
• oral chewable tablet
• orally disintegrating tablet
• oral capsule
• oral solution
|Strengths||• 5 milligrams (mg)|
• 10 mg
• 5 mg in 5 milliliters (mL)
|Dose||• 5 mg to 10 mg, depending on how severe your symptoms are|
|How often||• once per day|
|Maximum dose||• 10 mg within 24 hours|
Note: If you’re age 65 years or older, the recommended dosage is 5 mg once per day. You should not take a higher dosage without first talking with your doctor.
OTC cetirizine tablets are approved to treat allergies in children ages 6 years and older. And OTC cetirizine solution is approved to treat allergies in children ages 2 years and older. To read more about these uses, see the “Cetirizine OTC oral tablets and solution: Uses” section above.
Note: There’s no recommended infant dose for OTC cetirizine. However, you should not give cetirizine tablets to children under 6 years old. And you should not give cetirizine solution to children under 2 years old. Only give your child these medications if they have been prescribed or recommended by your child’s doctor.
Will I need to use this drug long term?
OTC cetirizine is meant to be a short-term treatment to relieve your symptoms. You might need to take it for a few days or weeks, depending on your allergies.
If you take cetirizine for hives and your symptoms haven’t eased after 3 days of treatment, talk with your doctor. If the hives last longer than 6 weeks, you should also talk with your doctor.
Cetirizine oral tablets and oral solution can cause mild or serious side effects. The following lists contain some of the key side effects that may occur while taking cetirizine. These lists do not include all possible side effects.
For more information about the possible side effects of cetirizine, talk with your doctor or pharmacist. They can give you tips on how to manage any side effects that may be concerning or bothersome.
Note: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tracks side effects of drugs it has approved. If you would like to notify the FDA about a side effect you’ve had with cetirizine, you can do so through MedWatch.
Mild side effects
Below is a partial list of mild side effects of cetirizine. To learn about other mild side effects, talk with your doctor or pharmacist.
Mild side effects of cetirizine can include:
Most of these side effects may go away within a few days to a couple of weeks. However, if they become more severe or don’t go away, talk with your doctor or pharmacist.
* For more information about allergic reaction and cetirizine, see “Allergic reaction” below.
Serious side effects
Serious side effects from cetirizine aren’t common. However, they can occur. Call your doctor right away if you have serious side effects. Call 911 or your local emergency number if your symptoms feel life threatening or if you think you’re having a medical emergency.
Serious side effects can include a severe allergic reaction. For more details, see “Allergic reaction” below.
Side effects in children vs. adults
Over-the-counter (OTC) cetirizine tablets are approved to treat allergies in children ages 6 years and older. (OTC means you can buy the medication without a doctor’s prescription.) OTC cetirizine solution is approved to treat allergies in children ages 2 years and older. (To read more about these uses, see the “Cetirizine OTC oral tablets and solution: Uses” section above.)
Cetirizine’s side effects in children are similar to those reported in adults taking the medication.
If you’re concerned about your child experiencing side effects with cetirizine treatment, talk with their doctor.
Cetirizine is used to treat allergies. However, as with most drugs, some people can have an allergic reaction after taking cetirizine. It’s unknown how often this side effect occurs.
Symptoms of a mild allergic reaction can include:
A more severe allergic reaction is rare but possible. Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction can include:
- swelling under your skin, typically in your eyelids, lips, hands, or feet
- swelling of your tongue, mouth, or throat
- trouble breathing
Call your doctor right away if you have an allergic reaction to cetirizine, as the reaction could become severe. Call 911 or your local emergency number if your symptoms feel life threatening or if you think you’re having a medical emergency.
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about cetirizine.
Do 5-mg and 10-mg cetirizine oral tablets have different uses?
No, 5-milligram (mg) and 10-mg cetirizine oral tablets do not have different uses. All forms and strengths of cetirizine can be used to treat:
You may find that some manufacturers only market cetirizine for one of these uses.
A 5-mg dose can be taken for mild symptoms, while a 10-mg dose can be taken for more severe symptoms.
Cetirizine is available over the counter (OTC). OTC means you can buy the medication without a doctor’s prescription. So a pharmacist can help you find a cetirizine product best meets your needs and treats your symptoms.
If you have questions about what cetirizine tablets are used for, talk with your doctor or pharmacist.
How does cetirizine compare with other allergy medications, such as levocetirizine and fexofenadine?
Cetirizine (Zyrtec Allergy, Zyrtec Hives Relief), levocetirizine (Xyzal Allergy), and fexofenadine (Allegra Allergy, Allegra Hives) are allergy medications that are available over the counter.
These medications are antihistamines that have similar effectiveness. However, there are some slight differences between them. Some of these are highlighted in the table below:
|Drug||Approved to treat||Suitable for||Forms||May cause drowsiness?|
|cetirizine||• respiratory allergies such as hay fever|
• itching due to hives
|adults and children ages 2 years and older||• oral tablets|
• oral chewable tablets
• orally disintegrating tablets
• oral capsules
• oral solution
|levocetirizine||• respiratory allergies such as hay fever||adults and children ages 6 years and older||• oral tablet|
• oral solution
|fexofenadine||• respiratory allergies such as hay fever|
• itching due to hives
|adults and children ages 12 years and older||• oral tablet|
• oral liquid suspension
|yes, but the risk of drowsiness is lower than cetirizine and levocetirizine|
Other OTC allergy medications are also available. Examples of these include:
- other antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
- nasal corticosteroids, such as fluticasone (Flonase Allergy Relief)
- combination medications, such as chlorpheniramine/ibuprofen/pseudoephedrine (Advil Allergy and Congestion Relief)
To find out more about these and other alternatives to cetirizine, talk with your doctor or pharmacist. They can recommend a medication that’s right for you. This will be based on your symptoms, age, and personal preference. They’ll also consider other health conditions you have and other medications you take.
Is cetirizine good for helping ease a cough?
No, cetirizine is not approved to help ease a cough. However, it may help ease a tickling cough caused by mucus running down the back of your throat. This type of cough can sometimes happen with respiratory allergies such as hay fever. Cetirizine helps dry up your nasal secretions, so it might help ease this type of cough. However, it’s unlikely to help other types of coughs.
If you have a cough, talk with your doctor or pharmacist about whether cetirizine could help. They can also recommend other treatments for cough.
Does cetirizine make you sleepy?
Cetirizine might make you sleepy. Cetirizine can cause sleepiness in some people who take it. However, this is typically mild, and most people don’t have this side effect. (For details about cetirizine’s side effects, see the “Cetirizine side effects” section above.)
If you feel sleepy while taking cetirizine, avoid doing activities that could be dangerous, such as driving and operating machines. You should also avoid drinking alcohol or taking other medications that cause sleepiness.
If you have sleepiness that’s bothersome, talk with your doctor or pharmacist. They can recommend a different medication for your symptoms.
Can cetirizine be used for anxiety or vertigo?
Anxiety and vertigo are sometimes treated with other antihistamines. For example, hydroxyzine (Vistaril) is used for anxiety, and promethazine (Phenergan) is sometimes used for vertigo. However, cetirizine is a slightly different type of antihistamine from these drugs.
Hydroxyzine and promethazine are older antihistamines that can enter the brain. Cetirizine is an antihistamine that doesn’t enter the brain in significant amounts. This means it’s unlikely to work for anxiety or vertigo.
If you’re interested in finding a treatment for anxiety or vertigo, talk with your doctor.
You may wonder how cetirizine compares with other medications that have similar uses, such as allergic reactions to insect bites. Cetirizine is available as the brand-name drug Zyrtec. And the generic drug loratadine is available as the brand-name drug Claritin. To find out how Zyrtec compares with Claritin, see this article.
If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, talk with your doctor before taking cetirizine.
Cetirizine and pregnancy
It’s not known whether cetirizine is safe to take during pregnancy. The medication hasn’t been clinically trialed in people who are pregnant.
If you’re pregnant or plan to become pregnant, talk with your doctor about the possible risks and benefits of taking cetirizine.
Cetirizine and breastfeeding
Cetirizine isn’t recommended if you’re breastfeeding. Cetirizine can pass into breast milk and could cause sleepiness in a child who’s breastfed.
If you’re breastfeeding or planning to breastfeed, talk with your doctor or pharmacist about other medications that may be more suitable for you.
Cetirizine and birth control
It’s not known whether cetirizine is safe to take during pregnancy. If you’re sexually active and you or your partner can become pregnant, talk with your doctor about your birth control needs while you’re taking cetirizine.
For more information about taking cetirizine during pregnancy, see the “Cetirizine and pregnancy” section above.
You should avoid drinking alcohol with cetirizine. The medication can sometimes cause drowsiness as a side effect. If you drink alcohol with cetirizine, you’re more likely to feel drowsy. (For details about cetirizine’s side effects, see the “Cetirizine side effects” section above.)
If you have questions about drinking alcohol while taking cetirizine, talk with your doctor or pharmacist.
Cetirizine can interact with several other medications.
Different interactions can cause different effects. For instance, some interactions can interfere with how well a drug works. Other interactions can increase side effects or make them more severe. Drug-condition interactions can also cause certain effects. For information about these interactions, see the “Cetirizine precautions” section below.
Cetirizine and other medications
Before taking cetirizine, talk with your doctor and pharmacist. Tell them about all prescription, over-the-counter, and other drugs you take. Also, tell them about any vitamins, herbs, and supplements you use. Sharing this information can help you avoid potential interactions.
Below is a table of medications that can interact with cetirizine. This table does not contain all drugs that may interact with cetirizine.
|Medication type or medication name||Medication examples|
|sleeping pills||• zolpidem (Ambien)|
• zaleplon (Sonata)
• eszopiclone (Lunesta)
|benzodiazepines||• diazepam (Valium)|
• lorazepam (Ativan)
• alprazolam (Xanax)
|first-generation antihistamines||• diphenhydramine (Benadryl)|
• hydroxyzine (Vistaril)
Your doctor or pharmacist can provide you with more information about the interactions between these medications and cetirizine. If you have questions about any drug interactions that may affect you, your doctor or pharmacist can address those as well.
Before taking cetirizine, talk with your doctor or pharmacist about any vitamins, herbs, and supplements you take. Sharing this information can help you avoid potential interactions.
If you have questions about drug interactions that may affect you, talk with your doctor or pharmacist.
This drug comes with several precautions (warnings). These are known as drug-condition interactions.
If any of the following medical conditions or other health factors pertain to you, be sure to talk with your doctor before taking cetirizine.
- if you’re pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant*
- if you’re breastfeeding or thinking about breastfeeding*
- if you’ve had an allergic reaction to cetirizine, any of its ingredients, or a related antihistamine called hydroxyzine (Vistaril)
- if you have liver or kidney disease
- if you have hives† that don’t itch, look bruised or blistered, or are an unusual color
Note: For more information about the potential negative effects of cetirizine, see the “Cetirizine side effects” section above.
* For details about taking cetirizine while pregnant or breastfeeding, see the “Cetirizine and pregnancy or breastfeeding” section above.
† Cetirizine is approved to treat hives. For more details, see the “Cetirizine OTC oral tablets and solution: Uses” section above.
You should take cetirizine according to the drug’s label or as your doctor or pharmacist recommend. This medication should be taken orally.
- Cetirizine tablets and capsules should be swallowed. This is easier if you take them with water.
- Cetirizine chewable tablets can be chewed or crushed.
- Cetirizine orally disintegrating tablets should be allowed to dissolve in your mouth.
- Cetirizine solution should be swallowed.
If you have questions about how to take cetirizine, talk with your doctor or pharmacist.
When to take
You should take cetirizine once per day. Taking the medication around the same time of day helps keep a steady level of the drug in your body. This helps cetirizine work effectively.
Accessible labels and containers
If your drug label is hard to read, talk with your doctor or pharmacist. Some pharmacies offer labels that have large print, braille, or a code you scan with a smartphone to convert text to speech. If your local pharmacy doesn’t have these options, your doctor or pharmacist may be able to direct you to one that does.
Taking cetirizine with food
You can take cetirizine either with or without food.
Can cetirizine be crushed, split, or chewed?
Not all forms of cetirizine can be crushed, split, or chewed. Only cetirizine chewable tablets can be crushed or chewed. Be sure to follow the instructions that come with the medication.
If you’re unsure of how to take the medication, talk with your doctor or pharmacist.
The cost of over-the-counter (OTC) cetirizine can vary. (OTC means you can buy the medication without a doctor’s prescription.) The actual price you’ll pay depends on where you purchase cetirizine.
If you have health insurance that includes a flexible spending account (FSA) or health savings account (HSA), you may be able to use these funds to purchase cetirizine. Talk with your pharmacist or insurance provider to learn more.
If you have Medicare, certain plans come with an OTC benefit. This may cover the cost of OTC drugs such as cetirizine. You can talk with your Medicare plan provider to learn more.
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There haven’t been studies on whether cetirizine can cause drug dependence. With drug dependence, your body relies on a drug to function as it typically would. As a result, you may have withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking it. Withdrawal symptoms are uncomfortable side effects that may occur after you stop taking a substance.
Stopping cetirizine isn’t known to cause dependence or withdrawal symptoms. However, there have been some reports of severe itching after stopping cetirizine in people who were taking the medication for long periods of time. This problem appears to be rare.
If you notice any side effects after stopping cetirizine, talk with your doctor.
Taking more than the recommended dosage of cetirizine can lead to serious side effects. Do not take more cetirizine than your doctor recommends. (For information on the recommended dosages of cetirizine, see the “Cetirizine dosage” section above.)
Symptoms of an overdose can include drowsiness.
What to do in case of overdose
If you think you’ve taken too much of this drug, call your doctor. You can also call the American Association of Poison Control Centers at 800-222-1222 or use its online tool. However, if your symptoms are severe, call 911 or your local emergency number, or go to the nearest emergency room right away.
When you get cetirizine from the pharmacy, there will typically be an expiration date on the packaging.
The expiration date helps guarantee that the medication is effective during this time. The
How long a medication remains good to use can depend on many factors, including how and where you store the medication.
Cetirizine tablets should be stored at room temperature in a tightly sealed container. Avoid storing this medication in areas where it could get damp or wet, such as bathrooms.
If you no longer need to take cetirizine and have leftover medication, it’s important to dispose of it safely. This helps prevent others, including children and pets, from taking the drug by accident. It also helps keep the drug from harming the environment.
This article provides several useful tips on medication disposal. You can also ask your pharmacist for information about how to dispose of your medication.
Disclaimer: Medical News Today has made every effort to make certain that all information is factually correct, comprehensive, and up to date. However, this article should not be used as a substitute for the knowledge and expertise of a licensed healthcare professional. You should always consult your doctor or another healthcare professional before taking any medication. The drug information contained herein is subject to change and is not intended to cover all possible uses, directions, precautions, warnings, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or adverse effects. The absence of warnings or other information for a given drug does not indicate that the drug or drug combination is safe, effective, or appropriate for all patients or all specific uses.