Some questions seem to linger for generations, even long after they've already been answered. One such question that women seem to keep asking is this: How long can you leave a tampon in? Tampons are one of the most mainstream forms of menstrual protection that we use in the U.S. They're effective, easily accessible, and safe — as long as you use them properly.
The fear surrounding the question of how long you should keep a tampon in originally sprouted in the early 1980s, when women began to die of toxic shock syndrome (TSS), a condition that usually occurs as a result of a tampon being left inside a woman's vagina for too long. Since then, companies have reduced the size and absorbency of tampons to encourage women to change them more often, which has radically reduced the occurrence of TSS in women, down to one per 100,000 women, on average.
Of course, a fear of developing TSS shouldn't be the only reason why you change your tampon regularly, though that discussion has certainly led to a more concrete definition of how long you can keep a tampon in safely before putting yourself at risk.
In general, you should change your tampon every seven or eight hours in order to prevent infection.
Of course, any time we talk about changing tampons, there's an asterisk we need to mention: Each woman has a specific menstruation cycle, so the intensity and length of your period can change depending on your own unique body. Some women may only experience light bleeding, while other women may have to change their tampons way more frequently than every seven hours to keep up with their flow. But even if you don't need to change your tampon due to bleeding, you should never keep it in for more than eight hours.
Here's why: A tampon, at its essence, is a foreign object in your body. This means that it poses the risk of becoming a breeding ground for bacteria if it stays there too long. Of course, the more blood-soaked your tampon is, the higher the risk of bacteria colonizing (TMI, I know, but hey, it's important to know). But even if the tampon isn't completely saturated, any amount of blood or moisture can create a perfectly acceptable environment for bacteria to grow.
Another important thing to note here is that TSS does not happen simply because your tampon's been in for way too long.
In fact, you can only experience toxic shock syndrome if your body already contains a strand of the staph virus.
Now, aside from the possibility of TSS, you can also experience dryness and similarly uncomfortable sensations if you leave a tampon in for over eight hours, all of which is your body's response to a foreign object.
This gets us to another obvious concern: Most women aren't intentionally leaving their tampons in for over eight hours. It usually happens as a product of forgetfulness, or just being super busy most of the time.
So, how can you remember to swap out your tampon before eight hours pass?
The first option is super simple: Set an alarm. If you have a consistent period every month that occurs for several days, you can even set a recurring alarm that goes off every seven hours during those days to remind you to swap tampons.
If you have an inconsistent or light period, it can be more challenging, since you're on a less predictable schedule. Whenever you have your period, consider making it a point to swap out your tampon in tandem with certain things you do around the same time every day, which will help you make a routine of the whole ordeal. For example, you could put one in as soon as you wake up in the morning, then swap it out right after lunch, then put one in in the evening before bed.
Whatever you have to do to remember, do it. Your menstrual health is massively important for your overall physical health, so you should never phone it in, you feel me?