Tampon safety 101

There are firsts for everything, including using tampons. And if you’re about to try them for the first time—or even if you’ve used them for years—it’s important to be tampon savvy. In particular, that means knowing how to use them safely.

But first some background: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers tampons a medical device and regulates them. That means before any tampons can be sold, they have to go through a review to be sure they’re effective and safe when used as directed.

Still, improper usage of tampons during your period has been tied to toxic shock syndrome. And while it’s much rarer than it was 20 years ago, toxic shock syndrome can cause organ damage, shock and even death.

Four steps for safety

That’s why it’s crucial to follow all label directions for tampons and to use them carefully. Here’s what the FDA advises:

1. Only use tampons during your period. They’re not intended for use at any other time.

2. Change tampons frequently. Aim for every 4 hours, and no longer than 8 hours.

3. Use the lowest absorbency tampon you need. If you can use one tampon for up to eight hours without changing it, the absorbency may be too high.

4. Match products for periods to your activities. For example, if you need coverage for longer than eight hours—say, when you’re asleep—use a pad instead.

Symptoms to watch for

For safety’s sake, be sure to tell you doctor if you have pain—or other unusual symptoms—when trying to insert a tampon or while wearing one. These are also signs that you need to take a break from using tampons.

Know the warning signs of toxic shock syndrome too:

  • A sudden high fever, sometimes with chills.
  • Vomiting or diarrhea.
  • Fainting or dizziness.
  • A widespread rash that looks like a sunburn.
  • Redness in the eyes, mouth and throat.
  • Seizures.

Toxic shock syndrome is a medical emergency. Remove the tampon and get medical help right away if you have any of these symptoms during, or shortly after, your period.

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