What are the risks of using a tampon?

Dear Doctor,

I’m 15 years old and started my period just three months back and my flow is normal. I would like to start using tampons as pads irritate my skin and sometimes leave me sore. Are tampons safe?  I worry that maybe it can get stuck. How often should I change?  Anita

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Dear Anita,

Tampons have been very popular for the convenience provided during menstrual periods, in fact, they may be the most popular menstrual product. They have advantages over the routine sanitary pads. They prevent the menstrual blood from oozing out, thus, chances of clothes being soiled is minimised. They give freedom to a woman to wear shorts and dresses during a menstrual period.

However, everything convenient is not necessarily good and healthy. The same goes for tampons.

As tampons do not cause soiling and can soak a lot of blood, one can use a tampon for a longer period as compared to a conventional sanitary pad. However, getting loaded with menstrual blood is bound to smell bad after a few hours. This bad smell will emanate from the woman’s body which she can smell too and find embarrassing and dirty. To avoid this situation, it is necessary to change the tampon every three to four hours on days of heavy bleeding particularly. Changing tampons is difficult compared to a sanitary pad.

Tampons are made up of harsh chemicals which are usually considered risky for the health of a woman. They contain chlorine, pesticides and chemicals that cause irritation and are harmful to the skin.  Presence of chlorine is a risk factor for diseases like cancer of the cervix, breast cancer, endometriosis, and etcetera. Thus, one should try to avoid using a tampon.

As a tampon is inserted inside the vagina for a long time, it can cause irritation of the vaginal skin. This can lead to rashes, burning sensation and even cause infection manifesting as lower abdominal pain, backache, itching and or discharge. Dampness caused due to the indwelling tampon can give rise to fungal infection, which in turn causes intermittent itching. Scratching the delicate itchy part with finger nails can give rise to bacterial infection resulting in painful boils. The longer a tampon remains inside, the greater the risk. Moreover, in a young woman, pelvic infections can give rise to sterility due to infection and inflammation being spread to the fallopian tubes.

A tampon, after all, is a foreign body containing chemicals. The bodies of some women are more sensitive and they may develop shock after insertion of a tampon, which is a medical emergency.

Before using a tampon, one should weigh the advantages and risks. At 15, one is too young to take such risks. It is better and healthier to use a sanitary pad. Sanitary pads are much more easy to use                         

Dr. Rachna   Pande is a specialist in internal medicine. 

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