Nicotine poisoning?

Originally Published: June 23, 2006 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: April 17, 2014
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Dear Alice,

I am a 17-year-old female who hasn’t been feeling well at all. It started a couple nights ago when I was stressed and chain-smoked a lot of cigarettes that night. Two mornings later, I woke up feeling nauseous and dizzy with chest pain, sore throat, a headache, a stiff neck, and swollen nasal passages. I am having a hard time thinking, remembering directions, and doing a few other things. I assumed it was all because I am allergic to second hand smoke, which my doctor predicted for me when I was very young. I read an article about smoking and nausea and found that I have a lot of similar symptoms to nicotine poisoning. I’m really worried about it and don’t know much about the condition. I’m very curious about how long it will last and how much damage there will be to my body if there is any. Please help me Alice!

Sincerely,

Worried Smoker

Dear Worried Smoker,

Take a big puff of fresh air and try to relax. Although you certainly sound like you are suffering, you probably do not have nicotine poisoning. Most adult cases of nicotine poisoning occur due to prolonged exposure with nicotine-containing pesticides, constant skin to nicotine contact, such as with tobacco leaves, or in very rare cases, improper use of Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) products, such as the nicotine patch. The amount of nicotine inhaled during regular cigarette smoking is usually not enough to cause nicotine poisoning. However, if you do not smoke regularly or smoke more cigarettes than usual, then dizziness and nausea can arise.

Your other symptoms of headache, confusion, and throat pain may indicate that you are experiencing side effects of a mild form of nicotine poisoning. But because you started feeling sick two days after smoking — long after the nicotine would have left your system — the symptoms you describe are more likely signs of something else. Perhaps the smoking made your allergies worse or triggered another illness that your body is now trying to fight. On the other hand, you could have something that is completely unrelated to smoking, and it could just be a coincidence that it arose right after you smoked. With all these different possibilities, you may want to talk with a health care provider who can accurately diagnose your condition and give you more specifics about how long these symptoms might last, the long- and short-term effects on your body, and most importantly, how you can make yourself feel better.

Although smoking cigarettes may provide a temporary feeling of relaxation and relief, the worry it can cause afterwards may not be worth it. Other ways to deal with stress include getting some exercise, talking to a friend, reading a book for fun, or even watching a little bit of television. Consider giving some of these methods a shot the next time you're having a stressful night. If nothing else, you can rest assured knowing they won't make you feel worse in the morning!

Alice