Tampons have been a trusted menstrual hygiene product for decades, providing comfort and convenience to millions of menstruating individuals. However, there is a rare risk associated with tampon use that many people may not be aware of – retained or lost tampons.
Most of the time, a person can successfully remove a stuck tampon on their own. The location tampons reside during use is called the vaginal canal. It is a canal with only an external opening and ends at the cervix, which is the opening of the uterus. Losing a tampon inside yourself is impossible, and it cannot get into your abdomen or other areas of your body! It’s always a good idea to make sure that your teen has an understanding of their body & how to take the best care of themselves.
How Common is a Lost Tampon?
Retained or lost tampons can happen to anyone who uses tampons, and the causes can vary. There is no real reliable data on the rate of occurrence.
What are the Common Reasons/Risks for a Lost Tampon?
- Forgetfulness: Busy schedules, distractions, or simply forgetting about the tampon can lead to it being left in place.
- Multiple tampons: In some cases, a new tampon is inserted without removing the previous one, causing retention.
- Alcohol or drug use: Impaired judgment due to substance use can lead to retention or forgetting to remove the current tampon before inserting another.
What are some Signs of a Stuck Tampon?
- Foul-smelling or discolored vaginal discharge
- Vaginal itching
- Discomfort when urinating
- Swelling around genitals
- Pelvic pain
What are the Recommended Steps for Tampon Removal?
- Wash hands: Wash your hands thoroughly to prevent introducing germs to the vaginal canal.
- Take a deep breath: The vaginal canal is made up of muscles. Tension of those muscles can make it more difficult to locate and remove a lost tampon.
- Use two fingers to reach inside: Only use your fingers. Other tools can increase your risk of infection or cause damage to your vaginal canal.
- Change positions if needed: If you are having trouble grasping the tampon or cannot find the tampon, switch positions. You can try lying down, propping one leg up on a toilet seat, squatting, or sitting.
- Call your OBGYN or primary care doctor or go to Urgent Care: If you cannot remove your stuck tampon at home, please see a health care provider. There is no need to be embarrassed. Your healthcare provider will have experience with removal, and it is necessary for your health to have it removed in a timely manner.
Will I get an Infection?
There is a risk of infection, however, the most likely infection is vaginitis – which is common and treatable. Vaginitis is an inflammation of the vagina, and it can cause symptoms such as:
- Vaginal odor
- Vaginal discharge
- Vaginal irritation
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
What about Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)?
TSS is a rare but potentially life-threatening medical condition that can develop suddenly and progress rapidly. Tampons used to be the sole blame for TSS. However, tampons do not cause the infection themselves. Any foreign object introduced into the vaginal canal can introduce bacteria that can potentially cause TSS.
Causes of TSS:
- Bacteria known as Staphylococcus aureus or and Streptococcus pyogenes enter the bloodstream in the following ways:
- Small tears in the vaginal wall from a retained object in the vagina
- Respiratory infections
- Skin Infections: skin wounds, burns, surgical sites, or insect bites
- Nasal packing
Symptoms of TSS:
- High fever often exceeding 102°F (38.9°C)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Hypotension (Low Blood Pressure) – TSS can cause a significant drop in blood pressure, leading to dizziness, fainting or confusion.
- Sunburn-like rash
- Severe cases: organ dysfunction, confusion or seizures
Treatment of TSS:
- Removal of foreign object
- Health care provider cleaning the infected wound
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that a good time to establish care with a gynecologist is between ages 13-15. In the U.S., 12.5 years old is the average age of first menstruation, so this age range covers a time when there’s a lot of change for tweens and teens’ bodies. For more information or to find a BJC-affiliated gynecologist, click here.