Are tampons bad for my vagina?

Many women choose to use tampons during their menstruation. It’s easy to see why. They are discreet and give you the freedom to get on with your active, daily life. There has been a lot of recent social media interest in whether or not tampons are damaging to health. Read on to find out more.

Are tampons safe?

There is currently no research or evidence to suggest that tampons are damaging to health in their own right. Changing your tampon frequently and good vaginal hygiene can help you avoid common vaginal health problems.

Tampons are commonly made of a combination of cotton and rayon combined with plastics and other synthetic materials and chemicals to increase absorbency. As with other products, you may prefer to use organic, unbleached cotton tampons or choose a more environmentally conscious option – such as a reusable menstrual cup.

How often should I change my tampon?

The vagina is very effective at cleaning itself. A healthy vagina maintains an ecosystem of microorganisms and fluids that regulate pH and keep it at a level that discourages the growth of harmful bacteria.

During menstruation your body continues to produce the normal vaginal fluids and the good bacteria that help keep it healthy. Tampons are designed to be highly absorbent and whilst they absorb menstrual blood effectively, they also absorb all the naturally occurring bacteria and fluids too. This can slow your vagina’s ability to self-cleanse and regulate pH, leading to irritation and possible infection.

Make sure you change your tampon every 3- 4 hours, before you go to sleep and as soon as you wake up in the morning.

Choose the right absorbency of tampon for your menstrual flow

It is important to choose a tampon that matches your flow. Using a tampon that is too absorbent and leaving it in too long, creates a breeding ground for bacterial problems. If you notice changes in the colour, texture or smell of your normal vaginal discharge, you should stop using tampons immediately. Never use a tampon to absorb vaginal discharge as this can easily make the problem worse and put you at risk of serious infection.

Good vaginal hygiene is really important when you have your period. You might find a gentle vaginal wash or douche helpful during menstruation. Be sure to avoid scented, or alkaline soap products which can disrupt the slightly acidic pH of your vagina. As well as making sure you gently wash your intimate area, changing your tampon or sanitary napkin frequently will help you avoid common vaginal health issues.

What is toxic shock syndrome?

In the 1980s there was understandable concern about Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) related to tampon use. Since then manufacturers have improved their products and awareness about good vaginal health has increased. TSS is thankfully rare.

TSS is caused by Staphylococcus aureus (Staph) and Streptococcus pyogenes (Strep) bacteria that have multiplied rapidly and passed into the bloodstream. Most people develop antibodies that protect them from these toxins but in rare cases, TSS occurs.

Do tampons cause toxic shock?

It is important to note that tampons do not cause TSS, but they can increase your risk. The precise relationship between tampon usage and TSS is not clear but leaving an overly absorbent tampon in for too long is one suggested risk. As well as tampon use, TSS has been linked to wounds on the skin, surgery or childbirth, use of wound packing materials and contraceptive sponges or diaphragms left in the vagina too long.

Symptoms for TSS are very similar to flu and are not easy to recognise. They can come on suddenly. If you are using tampons and have concerns that you may have an infection, contact your physician immediately.