As period horror stories go, there are few things more panic-inducing than realizing that you've got a tampon lodged where the sun don't shine—and no matter how you try, you just. can't. get. it. out.
Maybe it's because you forgot about the tampon and inserted another one, pushing the original one to the way-way-back of your vag. Or perhaps you didn't remember to take it out at the end of your cycle and, over time, it shimmied into a position where you can't reach the string. Whatever the reason, it's distressing AF.
But doctors say there's no reason to lose your cool if this happens to you. (It's so common there's even a technical term for it—a "retained tampon.") "The good news is, the vagina is a finite space, so a tampon does not have many places to go," says Natasha Bhuyan, MD, a family medicine provider at One Medical in Phoenix, AZ. "It cannot move up higher and higher into the abdomen. It just remains somewhere in the vagina." In other words, it's not going tunnel through your cervix and get lost in your uterus or anything. (Phew.)
That doesn't rule out other complications, though. Dr. Bhuyan says that if a tampon gets stuck and stays there for too long, it can cause an infection. "Many people don't initially realize they have a tampon retained in their vagina until they develop symptoms," says Dr. Bhuyan. "They might notice a strong vaginal odor, vaginal discharge that is yellow or discolored, pelvic pressure or pain, vaginal itching, or even redness in the vaginal area." In very rare cases, you can potentially develop toxic shock syndrome.
If you have a stuck tampon and you can feel the string, gently try to pull it out with clean hands. If that doesn't work or you start experiencing any of the above-mentioned symptoms, you should head to your doctor for an assist. What you don't want to do, says Dr. Bhuyan, is attempt to extract it yourself using some kind of object in your home. (Tweezers are for your brows, y'all.) You should also avoid fishing around for too long with your hands, as you may end up pushing the tampon in further, says Adeeti Gupta, MD, FACOG, founder of Walk In GYN Care in New York City.
Of course, the ideal scenario is not getting a stuck tampon in the first place. There are a few ways to ensure everything goes smoothly, says Dr. Gupta. "Do not push the tampon too far in—insert the applicator just past the vaginal entrance and then push the piston just far enough to eject the tampon," she advises, noting that the tampon string should be hanging out of your bits once you've removed the applicator. "If you are going to be busy, then set a discreet alarm on your phone or smartwatch to remind you to [take the tampon out]. And do not have sex with a tampon in place."
You should also use the lowest-absorbency option possible, adds Dr. Bhuyan. "Don't use a super tampon for light days, as you may not feel the need to remove it or might forget you have one in," she says. Luckily, period-proof workout shorts and blankets exist—so you could even just ditch the tampons altogether. What a time to be alive.
Menstrual cups can also get stuck in a scary way—just ask Kristen Bell. But if that doesn't deter you, here's how to choose your best option.
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