Sure, tampons come with warning pamphlets. But they don't cover everything. Avoid the common tampon mistakes that could mess with your health, according to Alyssa Dweck, M.D., a gynecologist based in Westchester, New York, and co-author of V is for Vagina.
1. You only wash your hands after insertion.
It's smart to wash your hands before you get all up in there to prevent contaminating your tampon on its way to your vagina. (Your lady parts aren't sterile, but you don't need to aggravate them with icky stuff you picked up on the bathroom door handle.)
2. You don't insert the tampon far enough.
You'll know because you'll feel it: A tampon that's too shallow will be super uncomfortable—you might even feel the cotton edge at the entrance to the vagina. (You shouldn't feel anything when it's properly positioned.)
3. You only use one kind of tampon.
While unlikely, tampons can cause toxic shock syndrome (TSS), a potentially deadly disease. Higher absorbency tampons increase the risk of TSS, so it's smart to use them only when you absolutely need to stop a super-heavy flow. Your flow can change from day to day throughout your period. So while supers might be a godsend on days one and two of your period, you'll want to switch to regular or light absorbency tampons toward the end of your period (or whenever your flow tapers off).
4. You only change your tampon once a day.
Even with a light flow, you should change that bad boy every four to eight hours. That's because a moist tampon makes a warm, cozy home for bacteria. And the longer it's in there, the greater your risk of TSS.
5. You use tampons to plug discharge.
While it's normal to experience discharge in the middle of your cycle, you shouldn't need a tampon at that point. Stick it in, and you could mess with your vagina's natural acidity, which could lead to infection. If discharge still feels excessive, don't just cork it; go to your doctor to get checked out.
6. You use a tampon the day after your period ends (just in case!).
Because pulling a dry piece of cotton out of an equally dry vagina can be more than a little uncomfortable, you should avoid this unnecessary precaution.
7. You don't change your tampon after you pee…on it.
From a medical perspective, you don't have to change your tampon every single time you relieve yourself. From a practical point of view: Who wants a soaking wet string hanging out down there?
8. You don't change your tampon after you poop.
If that string picks up any bacteria on the backend, it could easily infect the urethra. Another thing: Moving your bowels can sometimes dislodge a tampon, which could make it uncomfortable.
9. You forget to take it out.
Yes, this happens IRL. If you develop a horrible odor that can't otherwise be explained, use a clean finger to feel around for it. Pull it out if you can, or see a doctor to take care of it if you can't or it just skeeves you out.
10. You wear two tampons at a time.
While you can't technically lose a tampon inside your vagina, using two tampons at once increases the likelihood of losing the string or forgetting about the tampon all together. If you feel like you need two tampons to handle a particularly heavy flow, you're better off upsizing to a higher-absorbency tampon. And if you can't find a big-enough tampon to stop the floodgates? Hightail it to the doctor to get things checked out.
11. You don't change your tampon after swimming.
When you take a dip in a hot tub, pool, lake, or ocean, your tampon string does too. A tampon string that's laced with chlorine, salt water, or lake water can cause skin irritation if you don't change it quickly.
12. You use tampons with torn wrappers.
Tampon wrappers are designed to protect tampons from the dust and dirt and makeup bits that live at the bottom of your bag and anywhere else a tampon might end up. When that wrapping rips, the cotton could pick up little bits that don't belong in your vagina. So don't risk using it unless you're really in a pinch (in which case, a loose tampon that's free of debris beats no tampon at all).
13. You flush the applicator.
Unless there's a super hot plumber you've been dying to call, keep the applicator out of the toilet.
14. You recycle the applicator.
The applicators aren't recyclable because, after tampon insertion, they're considered contaminated with blood and other bodily fluids, according to a U By Kotex expert. Just toss it in the trash. Or consider using a reusable menstrual cup or tampon without an applicator if you're concerned about your period's environmental impact.
15. You throw out tampons just because they're from the Stone Age (aka from before your grandma went through menopause).
Tampons don't actually expire. As long as the packaging is intact (see above), old tampons are perfectly safe.
16. You store tampons right between your shower and your toilet.
The wrapper and tampon itself will stay fresher longer if you keep it dry.
17. You use scented tampons.
While some women can stick almost anything up there without any problems, other women can react to the fragrance in scented tampons. In the worst-case scenario, you might experience irritation or an urge to itch. It's why Dr. Dweck recommends unscented tampons—just in case.
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