- You shouldn’t keep a tampon in for longer than 8 hours, as this can increase your risk of serious conditions like Toxic Shock Syndrome.
- Though this condition is rare, it’s important to remove a tampon as soon as possible if it’s in for more than 8 hours, and seek medical attention if you develop a high fever, rash, or diarrhea.
- It’s best not to sleep with a tampon in, and if you’re swimming or sitting in a bath with a tampon in, you should change it once you get out.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
A general rule is that you shouldn’t leave a tampon in for more than eight hours, and this number has an important reason behind it. Keeping a tampon in beyond this limit can put you at risk for infections that can be uncomfortable, and in rare cases, life-threatening.
But this rule doesn’t always apply – in some cases, like during a heavy flow or after going swimming, you may need to change your tampon more often to protect you from infection.
Here’s what you need to know about how long you can keep a tampon in and when you need to change it.
How long you can safely keep a tampon in
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that you should change your tampon every four to eight hours and never leave one in beyond the eight-hour limit.
“Keeping a tampon in for more than 8 hours puts people at increased risk for having infections,” says Cara Delaney, MD, a gynecologist and instructor at Boston University.
Tampons are used to soak up menstrual blood and stop it from flowing out of your vagina in a leak. But when you leave a tampon in too long, it can become a breeding ground for microbes. This means that bacteria that naturally live on your skin and in your vagina can overgrow, leading to an infection, Delaney says.
You should also remove a tampon as soon as it becomes full or feels uncomfortable, Delaney says, and if you have a heavy flow, this could take less than eight hours.
Going to the bathroom can give you a clue about whether it’s time to change your tampon. “If you see blood when you wipe, it may be time to change the tampon as it is most likely full and not absorbing all of the menstrual blood,” Delaney says.
Can you sleep with a tampon in?
If you think you’re likely to sleep more than eight hours, you shouldn’t sleep with a tampon in. A better option is to use a specially designed overnight pad. Many manufacturers make these super-absorbent pads and you can find them at most pharmacies. Because they’re not inside your body, pads are unlikely to cause dangerous infections, Delaney says.
You can also try using a menstrual cup overnight – you can safely use a cup for up to 12 hours before emptying it.
Can you swim with a tampon in?
You can swim with a tampon in, but you should change your tampon as soon as you get out of the water.
“After swimming or sitting in a bath, it is important to change your tampon as the product will have absorbed water and will not be able to absorb menstrual blood as well,” Delaney says.
The risks of leaving a tampon in too long
In severe cases, leaving in a tampon too long can lead to a life-threatening condition called toxic shock syndrome (TSS).
TSS can happen when staphylococcus bacteria overgrow in your vagina – these bacteria can naturally exist in your vagina in small amounts, but when they multiply, they can become dangerous. This is because when your immune system kills staph bacteria, they release toxins that can get into your bloodstream and cause your organs to shut down.
The most common symptoms of TSS include:
- Headaches or muscle aches
- High fever that comes on suddenly
- Diarrhea or vomiting
- Rashes on your hands and feet
While toxic shock syndrome is a scary possibility, “the likelihood of getting TSS is very rare,” Delaney says. Experts estimate that between one and three women in 100,000 experience TSS each year in the US.
The risk of TSS is higher if you use larger, more absorbent tampons, because bacteria have more material to latch onto and multiply. For this reason, you should always use the lowest absorbency tampons possible for your flow.
Leaving a tampon in too long can also cause a less serious condition called bacterial vaginosis (BV). BV is caused by an overgrowth of Gardnerella vaginalis bacteria, which isn’t dangerous to your health but can cause unpleasant symptoms. The most common sign of BV is having gray discharge with a fishy or musty smell.
You should only keep a tampon in for 4 to 8 hours. If you accidentally leave a tampon in too long, you’re unlikely to have a serious reaction, but changing it every eight hours can lower your risk of health issues.
“If a tampon is kept in for longer than 8 hours, the best thing to do is to remove it as soon as possible,” Delaney advises. “Seek medical attention if you have a high fever, rash, or diarrhea.”