Are Nicotine Patches Bad For Your Health?
Nicotine Patches and Health
Nicotine patches are a form of Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT), which provides an individual a dose of nicotine to withdraw from nicotine without suffering from withdrawal symptoms.
Nicotine is a highly addictive chemical found in tobacco that leads to dependence, so people who smoke often find it too difficult to stop smoking. Nicotine is as addictive as heroin and cocaine. Symptoms of withdrawal can last several days to several weeks and include the following symptoms.
- Appetite changes
- Mental fog
Anyone who is significantly addicted to nicotine should consider using nicotine patches. Nicotine patches are suitable when an individual meets the following criteria.
- Smoking to relieve symptoms
- Smoking right after one wakes up
- Smoking more than one pack each day
- Waking up at night to smoke
- Smoking even while ill
Nicotine Patches and Quitting Smoking
Nicotine patches help prevent these symptoms of withdrawal while quitting smoking by providing a steady dose of nicotine throughout the day without the harmful chemicals found in tobacco. Patch strength is reduced over time, which allows for a gradual decline in dependency. Eventually, the user no longer craves nicotine.
While studies show that nicotine patches can double the chances of quitting smoking, it is not clear whether patches work significantly to reduce withdrawal symptoms caused by smokeless tobacco. Furthermore, NRTs do not appear to help those addicted to the equivalent of fewer than ten cigarettes a day.
Many people can stop smoking on their own without using NRTs (patches, gums, lozenges). Still, most cannot quit at their first attempt and begin to smoke again within three to four weeks. Failing to quit smoking may have more to do with psychological components (emotional, mental, and behavioral issues) than physical dependency. Studies also show that a combination of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Nicotine Replacement Therapy is a better approach.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says they have approved the following forms of NRTs to help individuals stop smoking.
- Nasal spray
Furthermore, the US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality states that NRTs are safe for all adults. However, this does not apply to teenagers and pregnant mothers. Those who have or suspect they have health problems should discuss the use of NRTs with their health care provider.
There is a possible link between the use of NRTs and increased cardiovascular problems. People taking other medications or who have had any of the following health problems should speak with their doctor before using a nicotine patch (or any other NRT).
- Heart attack, heart disease, chest pain, irregular heartbeat
- Digestive ulcers
- High Blood Pressure
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Thyroid disease
- Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS)
- Allergies to tapes, bandages, Latex
- Skin problems, such as Eczema or Psoriasis
- High blood pressure
Additionally, manufacturers of Nicotine Replacement Therapy warn against smoking or chewing tobacco while using any NRTs.
How to Get Nicotine Patches
Nicotine patches can be prescribed or purchased over the counter without a prescription. It is essential to follow the directions exactly as prescribed or on the product label. As mentioned earlier, NRT patches provide a measured dose of nicotine through the skin throughout the day, which is gradually reduced over several weeks. Different strengths are available. For example, the 16-hour patch may work well for a light smoker while the 24-hour patch may work better for someone who has a more severe dependency and needs around the clock support. But are nicotine patches healthy?
Other Information and Side Effects
Nicotine patches are not without adverse side-effects. One of these side-effects is the possibility of overdosing on nicotine, which can cause death. It is rare for this to happen but possible. Hence, both the FDA and NRT manufacturers warn not to smoke or chew nicotine products while using Nicotine Replacement Therapy.
NRT product labels state the amount of nicotine you receive from the product, allowing a person to choose a product that contains the same amount of nicotine that one is used to getting from tobacco. However, some things can cause too much nicotine to be absorbed into the body too fast, such as hot sun, heat lamps, and heating pads. These things dilate blood cells and increase blood flow, which causes faster absorption. Symptoms of nicotine overdose are as follows.
- Mood changes (confusion, restlessness, agitation, rage)
- Hives or severe rash or swelling
- Upset stomach, nausea, and vomiting
- Fast or irregular heartbeat
- Muscle weakness, body aches, or trembling
- Disturbed hearing or vision
- High or low blood pressure
- Dizziness, or fainting
- Breathing fast, difficulty breathing, or anaphylaxis
While some of these side effects are common while first using the nicotine patch, such as restlessness and an irregular heartbeat, not everyone will experience side effects. NRTs intend to prevent these types of symptoms. Any mild symptoms of headache, sweating, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea that continue could be signs of overdose while using an NRT. It could be the product used is just too strong for an individual’s needs. In which case, another NRT could be tried, such as a lower-strength patch or even a lozenge instead. On the other hand, symptoms could be caused by the withdrawal symptoms because the patch is not strong enough. Any uncomfortable symptoms should be discussed with a doctor to be on the safe side.
Other possible side-effects of the patch itself are tingling, itching, or burning after first applying the patch. Also, those who use the 24-hour patch may have trouble sleeping, vivid dreams, or nightmares. If disrupted sleep becomes a concern, the 16-hour patch might be the better option.
Some individuals experience itching, burning, tingling, redness, or swelling for up to twenty-four hours after applying the patch, due to the nicotine coming into contact with the skin.
All in all, when nicotine patches are used correctly and monitored closely, they can be a healthy alternative toward relieving symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. They help people to quit smoking. However, it is best to have a doctor prescribe an NRT patch to prevent any possibility of overdose.