How Long is “Too Long” to Leave a Tampon in Your Vagina?

Women's Health | | Helena Lorimer
6 min read

Did you know that it’s actually quite common for some to leave their tampon inside of their vagina for days or sometimes weeks, according to gynecologists. And while the whole idea might sound cringe-worthy, it happens more commonly than you may think. 

Sometimes women completely forget that they’re wearing a tampon, or they may not know how long is “too long” to leave a tampon in their vagina. We’re going to be talking about wearing a tampon, how long you should be wearing a tampon for, and what is safe and what isn’t so safe.

Tampon Safety

While this isn’t a guide on how to use a tampon, it’s important to know how to use them safely. This could save you a lot of discomfort or issues in the future.

The main things you should be aware of:

  • Wash your hands before inserting a tampon
  • Only use a tampon when you’re on your period
  • Change your tampon every 4-8 hours
  • Make sure that your tampon string is always outside of your vagina 
  • Contact your healthcare provider if you feel any discomfort or if you cannot retrieve your tampon 
  • Know what toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is, the symptoms, and the risks

What happens if a tampon gets stuck inside of your vagina or you forget to remove it?

We mention always making sure that your tampon string sits outside of your vagina for a very important reason — it can get lodged by your cervix.

If you can’t locate your tampon string and aren’t able to get it out with your fingers, you’ll have to visit a professional to help you.

It’s also possible to forget that you’re even wearing a tampon and end up having it inserted for much longer than the recommended 8-hour maximum.

“I’ve pulled a tampon out of a patient after three weeks, and she was still okay,” says Leena Nathan, MD, an OB/GYN at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.

It’s not always problematic, but this isn’t an invitation to stop taking note of how long you’re wearing your tampon. There are a few serious conditions that could come about if a tampon is inside of you for too long. 

Like toxic shock syndrome (TSS)… 

What is toxic shock syndrome (TSS)?

Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a rare, yet life-threatening complication that can come about from certain bacterial infections that release toxins into the bloodstream. 

Once in the bloodstream, the toxins can travel to the main organs which can result in severe damage and illness. 

And while anyone can be affected with TSS, those who wear (super-absorbent) tampons have an additional risk. This is because super-absorbent tampons don’t need to be changed as often, which gives bacteria more time to grow. Not just that, but it can also dry out the vaginal mucosa. 

There are different types of TSS but the one commonly linked to tampon use is Staphylococcus TSS.

Some of the symptoms of Staphylococcus TSS include:

  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue 
  • A flat and red rash that covers most of the body
  • Decreased liver functioning 
  • Decreased kidney functioning
  • Disorientation and confusion 
  • Difficulty breathing 

While all of these symptoms may sound scary, it may be comforting to know that TSS related to tampon use is estimated to occur in about 1 in 100,000 menstruating women, according to the National Organization for Rare Disorders in 2018. 

This does not mean that one should not be cautious about keeping a tampon in for too long. 

What are some of the other dangers associated with leaving a tampon in for too long?

TSS aside, there are other conditions that can come about when you wear a tampon for too long.

These include:

  • Vaginitis: It’s possible to get vaginitis from wearing a tampon for too long, which is an inflammation of the vagina. Those with vaginitis may experience discharge, itchiness, and pain.
  • Bacterial vaginosis (BV):Sometimes, your vagina’s normal, healthy bacteria can overgrow, which causes an imbalance known as bacterial vaginosis,” says women’s health specialist, Sara Youngblood, CNP. This bacterial overgrowth can be a result of leaving a tampon in for too long. 
  • Vulvitis: “If you have allergies or sensitivities to fragrances, leaving a scented tampon in too long could lead to vulvitis, an inflammation of the vulva,” says Youngblood.
  • Genital contact allergy: It’s possible for some women to have an allergic reaction to tampons. And, of course, if a tampon is left inside of the vagina for too long, the symptoms, such as itchiness, soreness, or rashes, will be worse.

How long should you keep a tampon inside of your vagina?

As mentioned above, a tampon can be worn safely inside of the vagina for 4-8 hours. You should avoid exceeding 8 hours. If you leave it in for longer than that, you run higher risks of the health conditions above.

According to Youngblood:

“We typically recommend that you change your tampon every four to six hours, though many people will change them more frequently if they’re experiencing a heavy flow. Definitely do not leave the same tampon in for longer than eight hours, which is when your risk goes up.”

Can you sleep with a tampon inside of you?

You may wonder if it’s okay to sleep with a tampon inside of you. Actually, yes! As long as your sleeping hours don’t exceed 8, it is generally fine to wear a tampon while you sleep.

“Put in a new tampon just before you get into bed, and change it first thing in the morning to prevent health risks,” says Youngblood.

But, if you’re prone to sleep more than 8 hours, or your sleeping patterns are irregular, it’s a much better and safer option to use a pad or menstrual cup

How can you avoid wearing a tampon for too long?

  • Plan ahead by making sure that you have tampons on-hand throughout your cycle.
  • If you’re on your period and wearing a tampon, try to plan your activities so that you’re close enough to a bathroom.
  • If you won’t have access to a bathroom for a long period of time, perhaps consider wearing a menstrual cup for peace of mind.

What’s a tell-tale sign that you’ve left your tampon in for too long? 

There’s one tell-tale sign that might help you remember that you’re wearing a tampon 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.

It’s important to be in-tune with your body and how it feels, however, this symptom occurs days or weeks later, making it difficult to form the connection. Period-tracking apps are a great tool to gather data on your menstrual cycle, including when it ends so that you’re more likely to notice any signs of prolonged tampon use.

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