5 Things That Could Happen If You Don'T Change Your Tampon
That moment when you realize that your tampon has been in for too long? Total panic sets in. All of a sudden it feels like you're carrying a ticking time bomb in your vagina. Questions like, Did I break my lady parts? Will I turn into a pool of period blood? Will I die?!?! suddenly seem perfectly reasonable.
But, actually, you can relax, says Mary Jane Minkin, OB/GYN and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale University. (Well, first make sure you take out the tampon that's been working overtime — then relax.) There's a good chance that nothing really bad will happen. "Likely, nothing will happen if you leave your tampon in for too long," she says. "But still, it's best not to make a habit of it."
So while you can breathe a sigh of relief that you didn't do any major damage to your reproductive system, here are some things you could experience.
1. A Dry Spell
Once you become aware that your tampon has been soaking up blood for an hour (or five) too long, the last thing that's probably on your mind is vaginal dryness. "But, actually, it's one of the major problems with over-extended tampon use," Minkin says. "If a tampon is left in too long, the surrounding tissue can become very dry, which can lead to discomfort."
If this is your situation, give yourself some tampon-free time and opt for a pad instead — your vagina could use a little break, Minkin recommends. Also, use some lube (you have some in your drawer, right?) to re-wet the area and help ease any annoying discomfort.
2. A Funky Odor
To keep it completely real, things may start to smell...fishy. When women leave a tampon in for too long and they need to see a doctor to have it removed, the scent is so recognizable that doctors often know what the problem is before you even have to explain it, Minkin says.
The blood itself doesn't smell, but when it starts interacting with your body's bacteria, it develops an odor. The longer you wear a tampon, the more bacteria that's present, and, well, the smellier the situation gets.
3. A Serious Infection
Chances are you've heard about toxic shock syndrome (TSS), a potentially fatal illness caused by a buildup of bacteria from leaving in tampon for a prolonged period of time — and your mind probably went there the second you realized you hadn't changed your tampon. But there are only about 1 to 17 reported cases per 100,000 menstruating females per year, Playtex notes on its website, with teenagers and women under 30 being at a higher risk. It's very unlikely that you've contracted it, Minkin says, but in case your fears have not been allayed, here's what you should know: TSS symptoms include a high fever, low blood pressure, and skin that looks like it was scalded by boiling water. If you exhibit any of these signs, definitely talk to a doctor.
4. Some Discharge
If you've been wearing a regular tampon for way longer than you should have been on a heavy day, the obvious thing that's going to happen is leaks! Aside from the occasional gush of blood, you may also notice a brown, watery discharge if you've been wearing your tampon for more than 12 hours, Minkin says. The older menstrual blood is, the less bright red and more dull brown in color it is. So if you've been wearing a tampon for too long, you may notice brownish leaks.
5. Absolutely Nothing
Aside from feeling completely anxious and stress eating the entire box of donuts your coworker brought in, what will likely happen? Nothing. If it's only been an hour or two past the recommended eight hours and you feel fine, change your tampon and get on with it. However, if you left it in for over a day or two (yes, it happens), you could schedule a visit with your gyno. She may want to do a culture to make sure there isn't any bacteria floating around and put you on an antibiotic as a precaution.