Your Menstrual Health: Are Tampons Safe to Use?

With the numerous feminine hygiene products available in the market, such as the menstrual cups, tampons, and reusable sanitary pads, the options for women sanitary products has now widened. Today, women are exploring various options past the usual sanitary napkins. This article offers a comprehensive guide on the use of tampons, its usage, and safety. It should be remembered that while sanitary products are now more sophisticated than they used to be, there are strict guidelines on how they are to be used to ensure they are safe.

What Are Tampons?

Tampons are small cylindrical products that are designed in a manner to allow for the absorption of your period before it can be discharged out of your body. But how does it work? Tampons work through an insertion into the vagina’s opening, soaking up your menstrual flow before it gets discharged out of your body. This item fits snug into the vagina, and you will not be able to feel its presence as long as it has been inserted the right way. With a tampon inside you, you can go about your daily activities like dancing, swimming, among others without fearing that it would come out. In other words, the greatest advantage of using the tampon is that it gives you the freedom to continue doing what you love to do.

Are Tampons Safe?

One of the benefits of tampons is that they are available in standard and “organic” varieties. Apart from that, they are also “scented” and “unscented” kinds, so choosing either of these options will highly depend on what your preferences are. Before these products can be put in the market, they need to go through a review by the Food and Drug Administration to determine if they are substantially safe for use.

As part of the review of the Food and Drug Administration, manufacturers of tampons submit, among other relevant information, the testing results to assess the safety of the components that are used in making tampons and applicators (if any), the tampon’s strength, absorbency, and integrity of the product. In addition to that, manufacturers also present information that reveals whether the product enhances the growth of harmful bacteria or interferes with the growth of normal vaginal bacteria.

The absorbent fibers that are used in tampon production are made through a bleaching process free of elemental chlorine. This goes a long way in preventing the products from developing dangerous dioxin levels. Dioxin is a byproduct of a process involving the conversion of wood pulp into Rayon, a product used in making tampon fabric. Dioxin is hazardous because they are carcinogenic in animals and humans as well.

What Should You Know to Use Tampons Safely?

There are some things you need to know before you can begin using tampons safely. In addition to the guidelines this section provides, you may want to consult your healthcare provider if you have concerns about the safety of tampons or menstrual cups. If you want to learn about sanitary products such as menstrual cups, you can get more information here. Nonetheless, if you want to learn about the steps involved in using tampons safely, consider the following steps.

1.         Follow the directions on the label – Even though you are used to tampons, it is beneficial to refresh yourself on the best practices such as washing your hands before and after using the product.

2.         Use tampons only on when you are on your periods – It is imperative to note that tampons are to be used during your period days and not any other time.

3.         Change tampon every 4-6 hours – Do not wear one tampon for more than six hours. It is always safe and hygienic to wear them every four to six hours.

4.         Use a lower absorbency tampon – You need to consider the viscosity of your flow as well as the frequency of your tampon change. Avoid prolonged wearing of tampons to ensure they are absorbing up to their recommended levels.

5.         Choose tampons in accordance with your activities – If you need to put on something for a prolonged period, such as sleeping overnight, you should consider an alternative such as a pad because it is safer.

6.         Watch out for pain and other unusual signs – Watch out for pain, discomfort, or any other symptoms that may seem unusual such as discharge during insertion of the tampon (Note: you are not supposed to feel its presence during insertion). If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it could mean that perhaps you need to consider alternatives because the tampons are not working out for you. Other symptoms such as sudden fever, diarrhea, vomiting, fainting, rashes, or dizziness could be an indication of a more serious condition – Toxic Shock Syndrome. Therefore, if you happen to experience any of the symptoms mentioned above, you need to remove the tampon and then consult a medical doctor. If you experience irritation or an allergic reaction as a result of using tampons, do not hesitate to speak to your healthcare provider.

What are the different tampon sizes?

Tampons are more like bras. There are different sizes for you to choose from, and it may require some trial and error aspects for you to find the perfect fit. Tampons usually come in super, regular, and light options, with sizes indication their level of absorbency. The type of tampon you’ll eventually pick will highly depend on your blood flow as well as your comfort level. Therefore, according to experts, the right tampon size is one that absorbs blood flow without leakage and one that does not feel inside. If your tampon is constantly leaking, it might be because you are wearing a small tampon, and in case you feel an object inside you, it could be because you chose a tampon that is too big for you. Also, this may mean that perhaps the tampon has not been pushed far enough.

During your period, you need to know that your menstrual flow could vary greatly on the first and last days, but there can also be variations throughout the day. Therefore, it is advisable to stock up your purse with enough tampons of the right sizes just in case there are any possible leaks.

Do tampons hurt?

Tampons can hurt, but that should not be the case if they are properly inserted into your vagina. If it is not well inside the vagina, you could end up feeling uncomfortable, especially at the opening end of your vagina. Pain may also be felt if you use a super-absorbent tampon for a lighter flow. This may lead to vagina dryness, thus causing pain. During a light flow, it is more prudent to use a pad or a slender tampon to avoid this problem from occurring.

If you are using the right tampon size but still experiencing some discomfort, then dryness or other issues could be the reason for your discomfort. If vaginal dryness is making it difficult for you to insert a tampon, a lubricant may be used to help slide the tampon in place. If you continue experiencing pain even after the tampon has been placed, it is advisable to seek medical attention to determine whether there is an STD, a bacterial infection, presence of yeast, a previous tampon still in place, or pelvic pain caused by other factors.

The Toxic Shock Syndrome

One of the safety issues associated with the use of tampons is toxic shock syndrome (TSS). TSS is a rare disease that is caused by a toxic substance that is produced by a specific type of bacteria. A detrimental effect of the toxic substance is that it could cause damage to organs such as the kidney, heart, and liver. It could also cause shock and in worse cases, death.

While that is the case, the rates of cases of reported TSS linked to tampons have significantly reduced in the last two decades. This decline partly has to do with premarket review of the FDA, where it evaluates the effectiveness and safety of tampons and their ability to cause TSS. Products that do not meet the set standards are not allowed into the market. The reduction of the TSS cases can also be attributed to the more informative labeling of the products and the FDA’s educational efforts where people have been taught how to choose and use tampons safely.

However, while TSS rates have declined, the risk is higher if you utilize more absorbent products than is required and if you wear a tampon for an extended period than the manufacturers recommend it. For that reason, it is always important to follow the guidelines on the label of tampons to ensure you are always using it in the safest way possible.

Final Word

After you are done using your tampons, make sure you dispose of the product hygienically. Wash your hands when placing the tampon and after removing it. Wrap the used tampon in a toilet paper and throw it into a bin. DO NOT flush it down your toilet because it could end up clogging your plumbing system.

Published by

Pranab Chatterjee

Skeptic Oslerphile. Public Health Scientist and Program Manager, Translational Global Health Policy Research Cell, Department of Health Research, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India. Past: Scientist, Indian Council of Medical Research, National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases; Senior Research Associate, Public Health Foundation of India. Interests include: Emerging Infections, Public Health, Antimicrobial Resistance, One Health and Zoonoses, Diarrheal Diseases, Medical Education, Medical History, Open Access, Healthcare Social Media and Health2.0. Opinions are my own!

One thought on “Your Menstrual Health: Are Tampons Safe to Use?

  1. Our country definitely needs more awareness about a wider range of menstrual hygiene products, apart from sanitary pads. Thank you for touching upon this topic. Good job!


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