By Susan Rinkunas
I took out my tampon only to discover I had a second one in the whole time. Am I going to get TSS now?
First, take a deep breath. Yes, it's disturbing to realize you've been harboring a forgotten guest, but it's not as unhealthy as you might think. Depending on how often you change them, it's possible that your tampon has only been in there for a couple of hours. And even if you know for sure that you've exceeded the eight hours recommended on the box, accidentally wearing one for longer than that doesn't automatically mean you're going to get toxic shock syndrome, or TSS.
That's because people need certain strains of staph or strep bacteria either in or on their bodies in order to be at risk of developing this very rare bacterial infection, says Nichole Tyson, MD, OB/GYN and pediatric-adolescent gynecologist at Kaiser Permanente in Northern California.
Dr. Tyson says there are lots of women who've had a tampon in for weeks without realizing it -- until they see their gyno about discharge or because something doesn't feel right, and then she finds the culprit.
"We've got a lot of testimony of thousands and thousands of cases of retained tampons, as we call them, without any toxic shock," she says. "We want you to not use a tampon for super long because it could put you at higher risk for toxic shock, but just because it's in for a long time doesn't mean you're going to get it." (And it's worth a reminder that tampons aren't the only cause of TSS.)
But if you wore a tampon longer than recommended and you develop symptoms like high fever, pain, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, or a sunburn-like rash, call your doctor. TSS tends to be sudden-onset, so once you start feeling sick it can escalate quickly.
Dr. Tyson thinks you're actually more likely to develop a vaginal infection (a.k.a. vaginitis) than TSS as a result of wearing a tampon too long. If you noticed the tampon and removed it, but you're having vaginitis symptoms like unusual discharge or itching or burning after a day or two, call your gyno to get it treated. Also give her a call if you notice toilet-paper-like bits, as those could be tampon remnants.
"I think it's normal to be anxious and get it checked out to make sure everything is out of there, but I don't think you have to worry too much about toxic shock," she says. If there is anything still hanging around, it will just be chilling in your vagina -- it's not going to somehow make its way into your uterus and do something terrible like render you infertile.
And don't be worried that your gyno will think you're completely irresponsible. "The patients that I've seen with [a retained tampon] tend to be busier and they're professional kind of people who are just mortified that it happened. It's not uncommon, it's just embarrassing," she says. "It's like another thing you forget -- you can't find your phone and you're holding it."