Nicotine patches give a dose of nicotine through your skin. Over around 12 weeks, you gradually use patches with lower doses of nicotine. This helps to wean you off nicotine.
Nicotine patches are a slow-acting form of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). You can use them with a fast-acting form such as a mouth spray.
Combination is the best way to use NRT to help you stop smoking. It is safe and recommended in Ireland's National Clinical Guideline on Stop Smoking Care.
You can buy nicotine patches without a prescription. But if you have a medical card, you can get nicotine patches for free with a prescription from your GP.
16 and 24-hour patches
There are 2 ways to use patches:
- only while you are awake (16-hour patches)
- day and night (24-hour patches)
The 16-hour patch works well if you’re a light or moderate smoker.
The 16-hour patch is less likely to cause side effects. But it does not deliver nicotine during the night. It may not be right if you have early morning withdrawal symptoms.
The 24-hour patch provides a steady dose of nicotine, avoiding highs and lows. It helps with early morning withdrawal but there may be more side effects.
Choosing the correct strength of nicotine patch
Nicotine patches have different doses of nicotine and last for different amounts of time. The strength of patch you should use depends on your level of nicotine addiction. Your pharmacist, GP or stop smoking advisor can help you pick the correct strength.
Level of nicotine addiction
General levels are:
- heavy smoker - smokes 20 or more cigarettes or rollies a day
- moderate smoker - smokes between 10 and 20 cigarettes or rollies a day
- light smoker - smokes fewer than 10 cigarettes or rollies a day
When to use different strength nicotine patches
This guide covers when to use different strengths of nicotine patch over 12 weeks. It works for most smokers.
Get advice if you're not sure which strength of nicotine patch to use. Talk to your pharmacist, GP or stop smoking advisor.
First 4 weeks
Use the full-strength patch for the first 4 weeks.
Full-strength 16-hour patches have 25mg of nicotine.
Full-strength 24-hour patches have 21mg of nicotine.
Second 4 weeks
Use the middle-strength patch for the second 4 weeks.
Middle-strength 16-hour patches have 15mg of nicotine.
Middle-strength 24-hour patches have 14mg of nicotine.
Final 3 to 4 weeks
Use the low-strength patch during the final 3 to 4 weeks.
16-hour patches have 10mg of nicotine.
24-hour patches have 7mg of nicotine.
Stopping nicotine patches
If you still have nicotine cravings after 3 months, you can continue to use the patch.
Gradually try to reduce your use of patches. For example, you can put the patch on for half the day or every second day, then stop using it completely.
Do not cut the patch in half - this affects the delivery of nicotine.
You can use the patch in combination with other fast-acting nicotine products to help manage cravings. For example, gums, lozenges or mouth spray. A good guide is to use one of these fast acting products on the hour, every hour.
How to use nicotine patches
Put the patch on in the morning on a part of your body that is below your neck and above your waist. For example, on your upper arm or chest.
Change your patch each day. Remove the previous day's patch before you apply a new patch.
To apply a patch:
- Remove the plastic backing from the patch.
- Place the patch on a clean, dry area of your skin that does not have much hair.
- Hold the patch in place for 10 to 20 seconds to make sure it sticks well.
Use a different area each time you change your patch to avoid skin irritation. Do not apply patches to broken or infected skin.
Some people may get side effects from using nicotine patches.
Side effects can include:
- skin irritation, muscle aches and stiffness when using patches
- racing heartbeat
- difficulty sleeping (insomnia), sometimes with vivid dreams
- an upset stomach
Some side effects, such a racing heart, may happen because the dose of nicotine is too high for you. You could also have nicotine withdrawal symptoms if the dose is too low.
Side effects are usually mild. But if you are worried about side effects, contact your GP or pharmacist. You may need to change the dose or type of NRT.
Managing side effects
There are things you can try to reduce side effects:
- Try a different brand of patch if your skin becomes irritated.
- Use a lower dose patch to reduce the amount of nicotine.
- Switch to a 16-hour patch if you are using a 24-hour patch and you have trouble sleeping - sleep problems may stop 3 or 4 days after starting the 24-hour patch.
If side effects continue, stop using patches and try a different form of NRT.