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Nicotine Patches : Usage, Side Effects, and Overcoming Nicotine Dependence

  1. Introduction

    1. What are Nicotine Patches?

      Nicotine patches are a type of nicotine replacement therapy that is used to help individuals quit smoking or reduce their dependence on nicotine. These are adhesive patches that help deliver a controlled steady dose of nicotine through the skin over a specific period of 16-24 hours.(1)

      These patches are available in various strengths, allowing the users to gradually taper down their nicotine intake.

      Providing a steady supply of nicotine helps alleviate the withdrawal symptoms associated with quitting smoking such as craving, irritability, and mood swings.

    2. Purpose of Using Nicotine Patches in Smoking

      Smoking has profound effects on individual health. It increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and also increases the risk of respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lung cancer. It also affects the reproductive health of a person and weakens the immune system. Quitting smoking is the most impactful decision an individual can make.

      The purpose of using nicotine patches for smoking cessation is to help individuals quit smoking and reduce their dependence on nicotine in a controlled manner.

      The key objectives of using nicotine patches are as follows: 

      • Nicotine patches help alleviate the symptoms of quitting smoking which include craving, irritability, and mood swings.
      • Withdrawal symptoms are a barrier to quitting smoking. Tapering them down can help an individual complete smoking cessation.
      • Nicotine patches are safe alternatives to smoking cigarettes. They do not contain harmful substances found in cigarettes such as tar, carbon monoxide, and other toxins.
      • These patches come in various strengths, allowing customization based on individual smoking habits and nicotine dependence.

      Quitting smoking helps improve lung function, increase energy levels, enhance the sense of taste and smell, and improve the overall quality of life.

  2. How to Use Nicotine Patches

    Nicotine patches are effective for smoking cessation. They come in various strengths. Choosing the patch that matches the level of nicotine dependence is important. Those unsure should speak with a healthcare professional.

    Nicotine patches should be used in the following way: 

    • Select a clean and dry area on the upper body such as the upper arm, chest, or back. The areas with a lot of hair or folds should be avoided.
    • The area should be washed with mild soap and water and dried ensuring good adhesion.
    • The protective backing should be peeled and the adhesive surface should not be touched.
    • The patch should be firmly pressed on the chosen area of the skin. Hold it on to ensure it adheres properly.
    • The location should be alternated to avoid skin irritation. The same area should not be used consecutively.
    • The instructions provided by the manufacturer should be read properly. Most patches are worn for 16-24 hours.
    • When it’s time to remove the patch, it should be carefully peeled off.
    • Anyone experiencing vivid dreams or insomnia is recommended to remove the patch while sleeping.

    One should drink plenty of water as nicotine can cause dehydration. One should check the skin for signs of skin irritation, allergic reaction, or unexpected symptoms.

    Before starting nicotine therapy, a doctor should be consulted for dosage and duration. 

  3. Expected Side Effects of Nicotine Patches

    According to the American Cancer Society, the potential side effects of using nicotine patches include: 

    • Skin irritation or redness of the skin at the patch application site. This can be alleviated by rotating the patch.
    • If the strength of the patch is high, nausea is a possible side effect. Eating before applying the patch can help mitigate this side effect.
    • High nicotine dose may cause headaches. If the ache bothers most of the time, the healthcare provider can adjust the patch strength.
    • There may be dizziness and lightheadedness, especially when first starting the nicotine patch therapy. These symptoms subside after a short period of use.
    • Nicotine can affect sleep patterns.(2) If it becomes a concern, consider removing the patch before bedtime.
    • Some individuals may experience digestive issues such as upset stomach or indigestion.
    • Nicotine elevates heart rate and blood pressure in some individuals. If it gets problematic, a healthcare provider should be consulted.

    The benefits of using nicotine patches outweigh the potential side effects. If anyone has any concerns about nicotine replacement therapy, a healthcare provider should be consulted for guidance. They can help by adjusting the dose or recommending alternative strategies to support smoking cessation efforts.

  4. Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms

    Along with experiencing side effects of nicotine patches, people may also experience the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, if the dose of the patch is too low. The symptoms include:(3)

    Nicotine patches are available in various strengths and can be worn for a period of 2 hours (4). The right patch dosage depends on the number of cigarettes smoked in a day. People can reduce the patch strength over a period of 8-10 weeks to wean themselves off nicotine.

    Also, nicotine interacts with adenosine, cimetidine, and varenicline and causes an increase in heart rate, and toxicity, and may also worsen nicotine-related side effects.(5)

    Anyone experiencing side effects from nicotine patches may be suggested other options including: 

    The most suitable option may depend on the lifestyle of a person and their cravings. Sometimes doctors may advise a combination of nicotine patches with other options to relieve intense cravings.

  5. Do Nicotine Patches Cause Long-Term Dependence

    According to the American Cancer Society, nicotine patches or other options of nicotine replacement therapy are not a long-term replacement for nicotine use. They can help wean the body off nicotine dependence.

    However, long-term use of nicotine replacement therapy does not cause any serious harmful effects. Long-term use of nicotine patches can increase the likelihood of quitting smoking.(5)

    People can get help from a doctor to wean them off from nicotine patches.

  6. When to Talk to a Doctor Regarding Side Effects of Nicotine Patches

    It is important to speak with a doctor if someone is experiencing side effects with nicotine patches. They can help by adjusting the dosage.

    Immediate help is needed for someone experiencing nicotine overdose. The symptoms include: 

    • Stomach pain
    • Cold sweat
    • Headaches
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Pale skin and mouth
    • Diarrhea
    • Weakness
    • Confusion and agitation
    • Restlessness
    • Fast breathing
    • Seizures
    • Irregular and fast heart rate

    The nicotine patches should be disposed of safely to ensure other people, children, and animals do not come in contact with them.

  7. Conclusion

    The nicotine patch is a valuable tool for individuals striving to overcome nicotine addiction and achieve a smoke-free life. By providing a controlled and gradual release of nicotine, these patches alleviate withdrawal symptoms. They can be customized and tailored according to individual needs.

    The benefits of nicotine patches extend beyond symptom relief. It successfully helps in smoking cessation, leading to improved lung function, reduced risk of smoking-related illnesses, and enhancing the quality of life of a person.

    The benefits of nicotine patches outweigh the potential side effects such as mild skin irritation. The right nicotine patch depends on the person’s lifestyle and how many cigarettes they smoke. The side effects may indicate incorrect dose strength or inappropriate use.

    With dedication, perseverance, and the right support, individuals can embark on a healthier, smoke-free future. Every step taken towards quitting smoking is a monumental step towards improved well-being and a brighter and smoke-free future.

Also Read:

Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:October 7, 2023

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