Leaving a tampon inside your body for an extended period of time can be toxic, but changing it too often can be harmful, as well. It can lead to abrasions, infections and even toxic shock syndrome (TSS).
“So many women wonder about TSS and tampons,” OB/GYN Dr. Lisa Masterson says. “Anytime you have a retained object in your body, it can get into your blood and cause a syndrome. Your body essentially goes into shock.”
Toxic shock syndrome is similar to sepsis, which occurs when bacteria enters the blood stream and causes vital organs to shut down. Wearing a tampon or diaphragm for too long can cause TSS because they can become breeding grounds for bacteria. Removing a dry tampon can cause tears in the vaginal wall and can lead to bacteria build-up.
Symptoms of TSS:
• Flu-like symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, fever and muscle aches
• Sunburn-like rash
• Dizziness or fainting upon standing
To help prevent TSS while wearing a tampon, Dr. Lisa advises using the lowest absorbency tampon for your flow and changing it every four to eight hours. "There are different sizes for different flow, because there are different flows during your cycle. There's the light, the medium, the extra. And toward the end, use a panty liner."
If you find your tampon fully saturated before four hours, you should use the next absorbent size. Light tampons hold approximately 6 grams, medium hold 6 to 9 grams and super ultra holds from 12 to 18.
“Remember, the menstrual flow is a vital sign,” Dr. Lisa adds. “If you’re flooding more than one [super ultra] tampon in an hour, seeing lots of clots or your period lasts longer than seven days, you need to talk to your OB/GYN.”
While TSS is a risk, Dr. Lisa explains that if used correctly, tampons are safe. “They are a great thing for women because they let them be active,” she says. “They are very, very important to women, but you have to use them the right way, because they can lead to infections."
Headlines were made when Danielle, 23, found mold growing on a tampon inside a package she had just opened. Danielle publicly exposed the discovery on her blog site, Parr for the Course. The manufacturer has hired an independent testing facility to conduct a thorough investigation of the product in question. Danielle joins The Doctors via phone to discuss her story.
“Tampons are made out of cotton, and they can get [moldy] from exposure [to] moisture just like anything else,” OB/GYN Dr. Lisa Masterson explains. “You want to store your tampons in someplace that’s dry [and] that’s not dark, like under a cabinet in the bathroom, which is where most women tend to put them because it’s easy and accessible. But really, they need to be out of the bathroom [and] away from moisture.
“[The mold] may not have originated at your house. It may have actually originated in the storage [facility],” Dr. Lisa adds.
Choosing the Right Tampon
Tampons can be very useful, allowing women to partake in everyday activities without worrying about their period. Sixteen-year-old Kaitlyn, however, has experienced a lot of pain and discomfort while wearing them, and asks Dr. Lisa if there is something wrong with her body and what she can do to use tampons without pain or discomfort.“That's an important question,” Dr. Lisa says. “Tampons really free us up to do a lot of things. If you're really active, then you want to be able to wear a tampon.
When you first start to use tampons, you may spend an hour or two hours in the bathroom trying to figure out how they work: Which way do they go, do you have them in right? And that's really important to get familiar with your body.