When it comes to tampons, there are all sorts of alarming myths and misconceptions out there. Here are four you don't need to stress over:
Getting toxic shock syndrome from leaving your tampon in all day
Toxic shock syndrome was a big news story in 1980, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began to get hundreds of reports of women developing the illness (a rare and often fatal complication of a staph infection) during their periods. Experts quickly discovered that some of the materials used in super absorbent tampons seemed to increase the risk, and after they were pulled off the market, cases dropped significantly—there were only 5 cases of menstrual related toxic shock syndrome confirmed in 1997, compared to more than 800 in 1980.
“Today’s tampons are much more lightweight and are better at killing off bacteria, so risk for infection is virtually nonexistent, even if you accidentally leave a tampon in for days at a time,” reassures Taraneh Shirazian, MD, an ob/gyn at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, who says she’s never seen a case in all her years of practice. To be safe, doctors still recommend changing tampons at least once every twelve hours. If you do that, there’s no need to give it a second thought, Dr. Shirazian says.
Losing your tampon inside of you
Your nether regions might seem vast and cavernous, but the reality is a tampon can only go so far. “It’s a closed vaginal vault in there,” explains Dr. Shirazian.
Occasionally a tampon can get wedged waaay up high if, say, a woman forgets she has it in there and has sex, but even then it’s no biggie: “if you can’t get it out, you can come in and we can take it out with forceps,” says Dr. Shirazian, who estimates she does this about once a month.
If you suspect a tampon is stuck, Dr. Shirazian suggests sticking one finger up as high as you can, then sweeping either side of the vagina until you feel the tampon and can pull it down. If you can’t, just make an appointment with your gyno to get it removed.
Being allergic to your tampon
“Patients claim they’re allergic to their tampon, but I’ve never seen that,” says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, an ob/gyn at Yale University Medical Center. A more likely cause of tampon-related pain or discomfort: dryness, especially as you go through perimenopause and hormone levels drop (estrogen helps keep your vagina moist).
It’s an easy fix: Simply add some water-based lubricant (like K-Y jelly or Astroglide) before inserting, Dr. Minkin says. You should also opt for unscented tampons, since the preservatives in fragrances can be irritating to tender tissue down there. If it still hurts, see your doctor to rule out another condition that could cause pain, like an undiagnosed yeast infection.
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Getting cancer from dangerous chemicals in your tampons
Until the late 1990s, the rayon used to make tampons was bleached with elemental chlorine gas, which left small amounts of dioxin, a chemical linked to hormonal changes and even cancer. But today, manufacturers bleach the rayon without chlorine and the process is considered dioxin free, though trace amounts of the chemical may be found. (Unfortunately, dioxin is still found in trace amounts everywhere in the air, water, and ground after decades of pollution.)
Manufacturers have independent labs test their tampons' dioxin levels and the FDA states that they're either at or below a detectable limit, which means no risk to your health. Also unfounded: rumors that manufacturers add asbestos to tampons. Still worried? You could always try a menstrual cup instead.