Among the many things we have to think about on our period (looking at you, hormones, cravings, and cramps) is how long to leave a tampon in. That might not be news to you. But here’s something that might be: the actual length of time that they can stay inside. Hint: It might be shorter than you think. And there are health risks to leaving one in for too long — regardless of whether you have heavy or light periods. So we broke down exactly how long you can leave a tampon in — and if you can sleep with one.
How long can you leave a tampon in?
Generally, you should change your tampon every four to eight hours. If you have a heavy flow, you may need to change it more frequently (think: every two or three hours). But even if you have a really light flow, experts still recommend changing your tampon after eight hours of use. And using the lowest absorbency tampon that your flow will allow. Keep in mind: Higher absorbency tampons may help with leakage. But they might also make you think 'everything's fine' when it's actually time to change it. Remember: within eight hours.
Can you sleep with a tampon in?
If you sleep for eight hours or less, you can sleep with a tampon in. But experts recommend putting in a new tampon before going to bed — and changing it right after you wake up. (Side note: Sleeping for seven to nine hours per night is ideal for your overall health.)
But if you sleep for more than eight hours a night, it’s best to opt for some alternatives while you snooze. Think: period underwear (which should be changed every 12 hours) or a menstrual cup (also 12 hours).
What happens if you leave a tampon in for too long?
It can lead to an increase in bacteria in your vagina. Some bacteria already live there, which is totally normal. But when there’s an overgrowth, it can lead to certain conditions like…
Toxic shock syndrome
You may have heard cautionary tales about TSS before. It’s a rare infection that happens when too much of a bacterium called Staphylococcus aureus develops in the body.
Don’t panic, though: TSS was more common back in the 1980s, when it was first linked to super-absorbent tampons. Today, it only happens in up to three out of 100,000 people who have periods. And proper tampon usage can reduce the risk even more.
BV can happen when there’s an imbalance of bacteria in the vagina. Symptoms can include gray or green vaginal discharge, or a “fishy” vaginal odor. Close to a third of American women get BV. Many cases clear up on their own, but BV can also be treated with antibiotics.
Some people may be allergic to tampons. Which could lead to itching or burning in the vagina. If you think you could be experiencing an allergic reaction, stop using them right away and see your doctor. Treatments may include OTC allergy creams and avoiding potential irritants (like the same tampons that caused the reaction).
Any other tampon rules to follow?
Some additional good tampon practices: Change your tampon after swimming or taking a bath. Because it may absorb some of the water. Also, wash your hands before and after changing them out. Oh, and if you can’t remember to change your tampon within the eight-hour window, set an alarm to remind you.
We all grew up with different info on how long to wear a tampon, whether or not you can sleep with one, and how often to change them. But now, we finally have clarification on how to keep our bodies safe. Reminder: Change your tampon within eight hours, and if you plan to sleep with one, change it right before bed and after you wake up.
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