How Long Is Too Long to Leave a Tampon In?

So, you forgot to change your tampon. Even though every tampon user knows from reading the back of the box that you’re supposed to change a tampon every eight hours, it doesn’t always happen. Whatever life scenario made you lose track of time, successfully wearing a tampon for an extra hour or so without it leaking isn’t a reason to celebrate.

The reality is that anything you put in your vagina has an expiry date — even sterile objects such as tampons — and the longer you leave a tampon in, the greater the risk for developing infections.

“Even though a tampon is a ‘sterile’ foreign object, you still have to be mindful about how long you leave it inside this delicate and sensitive area of the body,” says Sherry Ross, M.D, women’s health expert and author of She-ology. The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period. “The risk of a vaginal infection or Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) will be increased if you don’t follow the basic hygienic rules of tampon use. Even though TSS is an extremely rare complication of a staph bacterial infection, you have to understand what TSS is and how you can avoid this deadly infection.”

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Dr. Ross says that, realistically, a tampon should be changed every four to eight hours — just like directions on the tampon box tell you to do. Sticking to this routine will prevent unwanted odors, infections, and ultimately, it will minimize the risk of TSS. When tampons are left in longer than eight hours, they essentially turn into a breading ground for yeast and bacteria to grow in the vagina.

“If the delicate pH balance of the vagina is disrupted by a blood-filled tampon that’s been sitting there for a long period of time, an infection can occur,” she explains. 

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Expect to go through three to six tampons a day for a “normal” menstrual flow.

Tampon size or material doesn’t matter, but opting for the lowest possible absorbency can also minimize the risk of toxic shock and other bacterial infections.

“If you have a heavy period, using super-absorbent tampons is safe and often necessary, but remember to change it frequently, suggests Dr. Ross. “Also, alternate tampons and sanitary napkins when possible, especially is your blood flow is very light.” 

One way to guarantee you’ll never let changing your tampon slip your mind again? Set an iCal reminder. 

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