What are nicotine patches?
Nicotine patches are a form of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) that provide a steady level of nicotine to help you stop smoking. They contain less nicotine than a cigarette. Nicotine patches help reduce cravings and feelings of withdrawal such as irritability, anxiety, depression and restlessness, by replacing some of the nicotine you would otherwise get from tobacco smoke. The nicotine patch can be used in combination with a faster-acting form of NRT (such as lozenges, gum, inhalator, or mouth spray) to help you stop smoking.
How do you use nicotine patches?
Nicotine patches stick to your skin much like a band-aid. The nicotine in the patch is absorbed through your skin over 16 or 24 hours depending on the patch you buy.
Applying a nicotine patch correctly is simple. Find a dry, hairless area of skin and press the patch onto it for around 20 seconds so it sticks well. If it is applied properly, you should be able to shower, bathe and swim without it coming off. Good areas to use are your chest, arm or back. You will need to apply a new patch each day so find a different area to put it on each time – this helps to reduce the risk of skin irritation. Make sure you wash your hands with water after you have applied the patch.
How long does a nicotine patch take to work?
It can take up to eight hours for the nicotine in your patch to reach a comfortable, steady level of nicotine in the blood stream. Faster-acting forms of NRT such as the gum, lozenge, mouth spray and inhalator work more quickly and can be used in combination with patches to ensure you can manage breakthrough cravings and feelings of withdrawal. Most people who smoke will need to use combination therapy (combination of patch and faster-acting form of NRT). Speak to your doctor or pharmacist to work out the right approach for you.
Which nicotine patch should I use?
There are 16-hour and 24-hour nicotine patches. There are also different strength nicotine patches. The best nicotine patch for you is based on when you have your first cigarette of the day and how many cigarettes you smoke each day. Your doctor or pharmacist will be able to help you work out which patch is right for you.
- 16-hour patches should be removed at bedtime.
- 24-hour patches are for day and night use. Remove your old patch and replace it with a new patch at the same time each morning.
You should use nicotine patches for at least eight weeks. While you are using nicotine patches, you can reduce the strength or stay using the same strength. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist to work out the right approach for you.
What are the side effects of nicotine patches?
Side effects from nicotine patches are usually mild. Sometimes people think they are experiencing side effects from nicotine patches, but they may actually be experiencing feelings of withdrawal. If you are feeling irritable, frustrated, anxious, or restless, talk to your doctor or pharmacist who may recommend you try a higher dose or that you use a faster acting form of NRT more often.
Nicotine patches can cause skin irritation in some people. Putting the patch on a different area of skin each day can help, but if you still have irritation, ask your pharmacist to recommend a skin cream to ease the irritation. Changing the brand of nicotine patch might also help – speak to your doctor or pharmacist.
Some people who use nicotine patches experience vivid dreams. These usually go away after a few days of using nicotine patches. To reduce the likelihood of vivid dreams:
- try cutting back on caffeinated drinks (like tea, coffee and cola) by at least half and avoid these drinks in the evenings
- try to use a faster-acting form of NRT whenever you think you’ll want, or are feeling like you need, a cigarette.
Disturbed sleep is common when stopping smoking. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist for advice.
How much do nicotine patches cost?
It pays to shop around for your NRT because the price can differ between brands and retailers.
A 12-week supply of nicotine patches can be accessed at a discounted price through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) once in a 12-month period. You will need a prescription from your doctor for the discount.
If you identify as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person, you can access two subsidised courses of NRT in a 12-month period and you may be able to access nicotine patches for free or for a small co-payment through Closing the Gap. To find out more, talk to your doctor or phone the Quitline – 13 7848. You will need a prescription from your doctor to access this discount.
Please note, this information is not intended to replace consumer medicines information or health professional advice. If you would like to provide feedback, please email HealthDASSATobaccoControlUnit@sa.gov.au.