Some people’s journey towards quitting smoking can start with nicotine patches; deemed by many a magical cure and by others a mere nuisance. This article will tell you all about nicotine patch side effects, and whether this cessation method is the right one for you.
There are two components comprising the addiction to cigarettes. One is the psychological addiction to the behaviors involved in smoking. Things that are commonly associated with smoking are “triggers.” By using willpower and intentionally avoiding the things that were previously associated with smoking, triggers happen less frequently.
The second component is physical addiction to nicotine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that nicotine is as addictive as heroin and cocaine.
Withdrawal from nicotine causes intense symptoms that include:
- trouble with concentration
- increased appetite and overeating
Do Nicotine Patches Work? *
Many find it extremely difficult to deal with the psychological addiction to cigarette smoking and the physical addiction to nicotine at the same time. The physical craving for nicotine literally drives them crazy, which forces them back to smoking cigarettes. The use of nicotine patches is helpful for some people.
How do Nicotine Patches Work? *
Nicotine patches are a nicotine replacement aide that substitutes for the nicotine from cigarettes. The idea is to use the patches combined with stopping smoking. Then, gradually reduce the dosage of nicotine over an eight to ten week period. This tapering down method gradually reduces the nicotine to lessen withdrawal symptoms, so that in the end, nicotine use stops as well.
Side Effects of Nicotine Patch Usage *
There are precautions to consider, possible drug interactions with other medications, and nicotine patch side effects that some people experience. For example, it is possible for some people to be allergic to the ingredients in a nicotine patch. They may be able to inhale nicotine as part of cigarette smoke, but have an allergic reaction when the nicotine is absorbed through the skin by the transdermal process. Transdermal is the medical term for using patches to deliver medication absorbed slowly through the skin.
Precautions are warnings for people with certain conditions that they should not use nicotine patches because of the nicotine patch side effects. Nicotine patches should NOT be used by these people, unless under close supervision and approval by their doctor.
People who should NOT use nicotine patches include:
- A person who does not smoke or smokes only occasionally
- People under the age of 18, unless a doctor prescribes the use and monitors the minor person very carefully
- Women who are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning a pregnancy
- People who are allergic to the ingredients in nicotine patches, including allergy to adhesive tape
- Individuals with skin problems, who do not have healthy, unbroken skin for the application site
- A person with irregular heartbeats (arrhythmia)
- Someone who experiences chest pain (angina)
- A person who has another heart condition, or one who had a recent heart attack
- An individual with high blood pressure, unless approved by a doctor
- A person who recently had a stroke
- Someone taking medications for depression or asthma, unless approved by a doctor
- Anyone that continues to smoke or uses smokeless tobacco products like snuff or chewing tobacco
- A person using other nicotine replacement products or medicines to stop smoking like e-cigarettes or nicotine gum
It is important for every person to tell his or her doctor or pharmacist if he or she is taking any other medications, using any supplements, or taking herbal medicines. This helps discover possible negative drug interactions that may cause nicotine patch side effects. It is always a good idea to talk with a doctor before starting, stopping, or changing the dosage of any medications.
If nicotine patches are a good choice, other helpful tips from MedBroadcast include:
- Apply to dry, clear, skin: It is best not to use skin creams, suntan oil, or anything on the skin that prevents the patch from sticking to the skin
- Apply in a hairless area: Upper arm or the hip is a good place. Gently shave the area first before applying the nicotine patch if necessary
- Change the site: Each day change the nicotine patch at the same time and select a new site to avoid skin irritation
- Wash hands: After applying the nicotine patch, wash hands to avoid getting anything in the eyes.
- One patch: Use one full patch (do not cut it in half) at a time for sixteen hours to a maximum of twenty-four hours, then replace the patch
- Eight to Ten weeks: Use nicotine patches for eight weeks to a maximum of ten weeks in the strengths recommended, unless a doctor approves continued use for a longer period
Pets and children are harmed if they swallow a nicotine patch, so be careful with storage and disposal.
Store the patches at room temperature, away from the reach of children or pets. Keep them away from heat and direct sunlight. Do not store them in the refrigerator or in wet places like the bathroom.
Elderly people might be more sensitive to the effects, so extra caution is necessary for persons that are age 65+. Nicotine patches may increase addiction to nicotine, if the dosage is incorrect or by not following the tapering down plan according to the instructions.
Nicotine Patch Side Effects *
Almost all medications have side effects. Not everyone experiences the same things. Some side effects are mild and temporary; others are more serious and last longer. There are potential nicotine patch side effects.
- Skin irritation: skin rash, itching, redness, swelling, tingling or burning sensation where the patch is applied
- Allergic reactions: hives (small red bumps on the skin), difficulty breathing, tightness in the chest, swollen mouth, tongue, face and/or throat
- Blurred vision
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat (heart palpitations)
- Chest pain
- Leg pain
- Fatigue or weakness
- Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
- Vivid disturbing dreams (nightmares)
- Increased addiction to nicotine with increased withdrawal symptoms
- Other nicotine patch side effects may occur, depending on the individual
It is important to contact a healthcare provider, when a person experiences any of these nicotine patch side effects, especially if they are severe. If the nicotine patch side effects are mild and temporary, a pharmacist may also be able to give advice on how to manage the nicotine patch side effects.
It is possible to overdose using nicotine patches. An overdose is a serious condition, which requires immediate medical attention.
The symptoms of an overdose include:
- Breaking out in cold sweat
- Chest pain
- Convulsions (seizures)
- Disorientation or confusion
- Disturbed hearing and vision (hallucinations)
- Excessive drooling
- Extreme exhaustion
- Loss of natural skin color (pale skin)
- Rapid heartbeat
- Stomach cramps or abdominal pain
If any of these severe signs of overdose occur, immediately remove the patch, and go to the nearest hospital emergency room. If children or pets accidentally swallow nicotine patches, seek professional help immediately by going to the emergency room at the nearest hospital with the child or an emergency veterinary hospital with the pet. Help is also available from the American Association of Poison Control Centers by calling 1-800-222-1222.
Many people successfully use nicotine patches as part of an overall program to stop smoking. It is best to use nicotine patches under proper medical supervision. For most people, the nicotine patch side effects are mild to non-existent. The cost of using nicotine patches is around $350 for the entire treatment program, which is similar to the amount of money spent on cigarettes during the same period for most people. Sometimes, health insurance covers this cost.
Nicotine patches only work when a person has already made a strong commitment to stop smoking. Do not use nicotine patches while continuing to smoke, because excessive nicotine will still be present from the cigarette smoking. The best way to use nicotine patches is to select a quit day. Stop smoking cigarettes completely, wait at least one-half hour, and then apply the first patch according to the dosage appropriate for an individual’s smoking pattern.
Nicotine patches only address the problem of physical addiction to nicotine; they have no effect on the psychological addiction to cigarette smoking. To be successful, the psychological elements need addressing at the same time.
Nicotine patches may cause a dependency on the patches as a continued addiction to nicotine, making it difficult to stop using the patches.
Nicotine patches are convenient and need only to be applied once per day. The steady stream of nicotine slowly entering the body through the skin makes sure there are no gaps in the delivery of the medication that might cause a relapse to smoking because of the nicotine levels being too low for the moment.
A Cochraine study found that nicotine replacement therapies increased the likelihood of smoker being able to quit by 50% to 70%. For those who have tried to quit “cold turkey” and failed because of the overwhelming cravings for a cigarette, nicotine replacement is a viable alternative.
How to Avoid Nicotine Patch Side Effects *
When a person experiences sleep disturbances, like insomnia or vivid abnormal dreams, they can remove the patch before going to sleep and then put a new patch on in the morning when they wake up. Apply the patches to different areas of the skin each day to avoid skin irritations. For example, the first day place a patch on the right upper arm, the next day on the left upper arm, the third day on the right upper hip, and the fourth day on the left upper hip, then repeat the cycle.
The benefits of stopping smoking far outweigh the risks of nicotine patch side effects in most cases. Under proper medical supervision, many find nicotine patches helpful in quitting smoking. Some have severe negative reactions to nicotine patches, so this method is not right for them. It is important to consult with a healthcare provider when experiencing nicotine patch side effects. It is also important to continue to try to stop smoking, using every method possible, until achieving success.