Quitting a smoking habit is a huge step towards better health and well-being for any tobacco user. Because this can be such a difficult process, nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs) can help satisfy a person’s craving for tobacco products and improve their chances of quitting successfully and permanently.

Understanding How Nicotine Patches Work

Although there are subtle differences between brands when it comes to dosage strength, patch style and the type of adhesive used to stick the patch to the skin, most nicotine patches work according to the same principle. The body slowly absorbs nicotine into the bloodstream through the skin.  Because the tobacco user receives a constant dose of nicotine throughout the day, they can reduce their sense of need for nicotine through smoking.

Most brands offer a variety of dosage strengths so that the amount of nicotine delivered by a patch can be slowly reduced over time. This may help wean the tobacco user off of their dependence on nicotine without causing them to go through as stark a withdrawal as sudden cessation might cause. Each brand may set its own timeline for when to reduce dosage, but some brands design their NRTs for consumer-directed reduction.

Instructions for how to wear the patch and for how long may also change between brands, but generally, you can expect to wear a patch for a majority of the day or all day and night if the design of the patch and your tolerance for wearing it permits.

Side Effects and Risks Associated with Nicotine Patches

Because this type of NRT comes in contact with the skin and is worn for several hours, certain topical side effects may be noticeable right away.  It’s common to feel a sensation that may be described as tingling or burning during the first hour of wear due to nicotine being absorbed through the skin. While this is a normal expectation, any excessive discomfort or prolonged and painful sensation should be reported to your health care professional immediately.

Some consumers also struggle with gastrointestinal upset, dizziness, and headaches. These side effects may be exacerbated by continuing to consume tobacco products while wearing the patch. Because these patches provide a constant dose of nicotine, smoking while wearing one can concentrate the total amount of nicotine in your system and increase the likelihood of experiencing a nicotine overdose. It’s strongly advised to avoid tobacco use entirely while using a nicotine patch.

Allergic reactions to the material of the patch or its adhesive may occur in some people. Excessive redness, swelling or itching around the site where the patch is applied can be a sign of allergic reaction. Talking with your health care professional about any and all changes to your skin or in your body can help them properly monitor your use of a nicotine patch as a smoking cessation aid.

Medicare Coverage for Nicotine Patches

Nicotine patches are considered an over-the-counter (OTC) medication, which means a prescription is not necessary to purchase them for personal use. Although Medicare coverage can provide smoking cessation counseling, OTC medications for smoking cessation are not included under Original Medicare coverage Part A or Part B. Likewise, Part D prescription drug plans often exclude all OTC medications.

Medicare Advantage plans that offer a combination of Part A and Part B insurance with additional coverage may extend benefits to include an allowance that covers some OTC medications. NRTs such as nicotine patches may be permitted for purchase through an OTC allowance. The inclusion of nicotine patches is determined by each private insurer offering these Medicare Advantage plans.

Dual-eligible recipients who receive Medicare alongside Medicaid assistance may have expanded medication benefits. Medicaid programs vary by state, but some may include NRTs like nicotine patches as part of their own smoking cessation programs. Some smoking cessation benefits with Medicare Advantage plans or through Medicaid may be available only to recipients who are currently diagnosed with a smoking-related health condition.

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