How the Nicotine Patch Works
The nicotine patch is an effective aid in smoking cessation. It works by providing a constant low dose of nicotine that is absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream for 16-24 hours before replacement. Because of the consistent nicotine in the system, withdrawal symptoms are lessened. Most patch systems are met with better results when used in combination with behavioral therapy/counseling.Most patches come in "step" form, though some are consistent doses. Step systems work by giving a higher dose of nicotine for two to three weeks, then moving down to lower doses.
To use the patch, follow these steps:
- Find a hairless, dry spot on the body. Usually it is the chest, upper back, stomach, lower back hip, or upper arm. Clean thoroughly.
- Change the patch every 16-24 hours, as the brand's instructions dictate.
- Change patch at the same time each day.
- Use the patch for up to 12 weeks; consult a physician if longer time is needed.
The patch should stay on through showers, bathing, and swimming. If it does happen to fall off, replace it immediately. If necessary, try again in a new place on the body.
Do not double up on the patch. Use one at a time. If a dose is missed, replace as soon as it is remembered. Pregnant or breastfeeding women and persons under the age of 18 should not use the patch.
Although most people associate the patch with smoking cessation, it can also be used to aid in quitting smokeless tobacco products. Although it may not be as effective a treatment with the tobacco as it is with cigarettes, it is still worth discussing the option with your doctor.
Interactions and Overdose
Speak with a doctor about any current medications, since there may be interactions that cause unexpected effects. Although the nicotine patch is available over-the-counter, it is always advisable to check with a physician or pharmacist about the interactions.
People with certain health conditions should not use the patch without oversight from a doctor. Pros and cons of using the patch should be discussed before starting a program. The following conditions merit extra medical attention when using the nicotine patch:
- Heart attack or chest pains
- Heart disease
- Allergies to adhesives or certain medicines
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- High blood pressure
- Irregular heartbeat
Reactions to the nicotine patch, as with any medication, are to be expected. Mild reactions usually include diarrhea, dry mouth, hives/swelling at patch application site, and sweating. Nausea or vomiting may also occur in some instances. If any of these symptoms persist over a long period of time, speak with a doctor.
In cases of more severe reactions, go to the emergency room. They may be due to overdose, or simple intolerance of the medication. For this reason, do not use nicotine products while on the patch. The patch is not meant to be worn and taken off for a "quick fix"-it should be worn continuously. The reactions to the medication or overdose include:
- Muscle palpitations
- Difficulty breathing
- Upset stomach
- Cold sweats
- Blurred vision
- Hearing problems
When first applying the patch, tingling, itching, or burning may occur for up to an hour after application. If the area becomes red, swollen, or hives develop, discontinue using the patch. Mild redness can occur when taking the patch off, so do not be alarmed if this happens.
Types of Patches
Nicotine patches come in several brands. Two of the most well-known brands are Habitrol and Nicoderm CQ.
Habitrol is a three-step system designed to take eight weeks. People who smoke less than 10 cigarettes per day should begin with the second step, because smaller amounts of nicotine are in this step.
Nicoderm CQ is also a three-step system. It lasts for 10 weeks when doing all three steps. If beginning with step two, for smoking less than 10 cigarettes a day, then the program will only be for eight weeks. This brand also offers a thin, clear patch as well as a more traditional-looking patch.
Generic versions and other name brands of the nicotine patch are available at drugstores and online.