Here's what gynecologists who retrieve lost tampons all the time want you to know.
Keeping a tampon in for longer than the advised 4-6 hours is something just about every woman is guilty of at some point or another. But forgetting to take your tampon out altogether? That's a different story.
Accidentally leaving a tampon inside your vagina for days or even weeks, however, is pretty common, gynecologists we spoke to say. And as gross as it sounds, it may not be as risky to your health as you'd think. “I’ve pulled a tampon out of a patient after three weeks and she was still okay,” says Leena Nathan, MD, ob-gyn at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.
If it's never happened to you, you're probably wondering how it could get lost without a woman knowing. What comes up must come down, right? Not always. The tampon can get lodged high up near the cervix, the string tucked out of view and out of reach.
A tampon that's overstayed its welcome isn't a pleasant thing to encounter, but it won't necessarily cause any health issues. The biggest risk is vaginitis, explains Dr. Nathan. Vaginitis is an inflammation of the vagina, and it can stem from a variety of causes—including the bacteria that glom onto the tampon.
A more serious issue is toxic shock syndrome, or TSS. This is a potentially deadly condition triggered when one type of strep bacteria on the tampon emits toxins that swiftly overwhelm your body. However, TSS is pretty unlikely. “There’s a possibility of developing toxic shock syndrome, but the risk of TSS is 1 in 100,000," when tampons are used properly, says Dr. Nathan. "So it’s rare even if the tampon is left in for a longer period of time,” she adds.
How do you know if you've got a MIA tampon up there? The biggest giveaway is a foul-smelling discharge. “The key is to notice if the discharge is pink, green, yellow, or brownish and is accompanied by an odor,” says Christine Greves, MD, ob-gyn at the center for obstetrics and gynecology at Orlando Health in Florida. This discharge can show up within a few days or take as long as a couple of weeks—which means you may not make the connection that a forgotten tampon is the cause.
If these symptoms appear, “ask yourself if a rash, fever, or pain is also present,” recommends Dr. Greves. The last three symptoms are signs of TSS. Again, this is a rare condition, but it's better to play it safe and call your gyno or head to the ER and be checked out, since it moves fast in your system.
If you're only dealing with odor and/or discharge, and you're starting to fuzzily recall that hmm, maybe you didn't remove the last tampon you put in before your period ended, use your fingers to feel around for it. Should you detect it, "make sure to remove the entire tampon,” says Dr. Greves. Once you get over your shock and surprise, of course.
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Can't get the freaking thing out on your own? Call your gyno and explain the situation—she's retrieved many a lost tampon in her exam room and it's really no big deal.
“It happens!” says Dr. Greves. “It’s important to let women know they shouldn’t be embarrassed about it. I’m actually grateful when they come in so that it gets removed and I can make sure everything is okay.”