It is not uncommon for a tampon to become stuck. Signs a tampon may be wedged in the vagina include a foul odor, pain, and itchiness.

However, it is important to remove the tampon as soon as possible to avoid any complications.

In this article, we look at what happens if a tampon becomes stuck for days or weeks, the risks that this might pose, and how to remove it. In most cases, a person can remove the tampon at home, but we also explain when to see a doctor.

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A person should never wear a tampon for longer than 8 hours.

A tampon can become wedged in the vagina, making it difficult to remove. However, it cannot get “lost” inside the body.

The vaginal canal is relatively short — approximately 3–4 inches — and the cervix is much too small for a tampon to enter. So, while a tampon can get wedged in, it is always possible to remove it from the vagina.

A tampon can become stuck in the vaginal canal as a result of a person:

  • inserting a new tampon before removing the old one
  • having intercourse without first removing a tampon
  • forgetting about the tampon

In some cases, a tampon string can break or move up into the vagina.

It is important to get the stuck tampon out as soon as possible to prevent infection and other complications.

Healthcare professionals recommend that people use tampons with the right absorbency for their menstrual flow. Doing this can make it easier to both insert and remove tampons at the appropriate time intervals.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommend changing tampons every 4–8 hours and never wearing one tampon for more than 8 hours.

A person who has a tampon wedged inside their vaginal canal may notice the following symptoms:

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A person with TSS may experience a fever, nausea, and a sore throat.

Tampon use is very common among females of reproductive age in the United States. Research has found that 55% of white, 31% of black, and 22% of Hispanic females use tampons regularly.

The FDA consider tampons to be medical devices and regulate them as such. Most of the time, people use tampons without any problems at all, although some do report discomfort when inserting or removing them.

It is not possible for a retained tampon to seriously injure the cervix or the vagina. However, a tampon stuck in the vagina does carry the risk of infection, so it is important to remove it as quickly as possible.

Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is the most serious potential complication of having a tampon stuck in the vagina. It is also very rare.

Although many people may mistakenly think that leaving tampons in for too long can cause TSS, tampons do not cause the syndrome by themselves. For a person to develop TSS, bacteria must also be present, particularly the Staphylococcus aureus strain.

However, using tampons with a higher absorbency than necessary or leaving them in for too long can increase the likelihood of the growth of bacteria that can cause TSS. The symptoms of TSS include:

  • fever
  • nausea
  • a sore throat
  • vomiting
  • feeling faint
  • a sunburn-like rash

The National Organization for Rare Disorders report that in 1980, there were six cases of TSS in the U.S. among every 100,000 females between the ages of 19 and 44 years. However, by 1986 — once super absorbent tampons were no longer on the market and new guidelines for tampon manufacture and use were in place — there were only between one and three cases per 100,000 females.

Some people may worry that a stuck tampon will hurt their organs. However, although a stuck tampon may feel sore, and a person may irritate the lining of the vagina while attempting to remove it, it is very unlikely to damage the cervix.

Once a person is aware that they have a tampon stuck in their vagina, it is important to get it out as soon as possible.

A person can usually do this on their own, but they will need to be very gentle and careful. Use the following steps:

  1. Thoroughly wash and dry the hands.
  2. Cover any cuts or scratches on the hands and fingers with bandages.
  3. Relax and sit on a toilet with the feet slightly elevated.
  4. Push as though having a bowel movement.
  5. Place one finger into the vagina and move it around the sides, feeling for the tampon or string and making sure to reach toward the top of the vagina.
  6. Holding a mirror in the other hand can make it easier to find and remove the tampon.
  7. Grip the tampon or string between two fingers and pull it out slowly and gently.

Using lubricant may make it easier to remove a stuck tampon. People should avoid using another object, such as tweezers, as this could cause injury.

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A person should talk to their doctor if they have any symptoms of an infection.

Most of the time, a person can remove a stuck tampon without needing medical help.

If they are not able to, a doctor or another healthcare professional can remove it. Trained professionals will know what to do, and they are likely to have previous experience of helping people with this issue.

If a person has any signs or symptoms of an infection, they should see their doctor. These include:

  • a fever
  • pain in the abdomen and pelvis
  • nausea
  • itchiness or a rash around the vagina
  • foul smelling discharge from the vagina
  • dizziness
  • discomfort when urinating

Having a tampon stuck in the vagina can be very uncomfortable, both physically and emotionally, but it is not a rare problem.

In most cases, the person can remove a retained tampon on their own, but when this is not possible, a doctor can help. Tampons that remain in the vagina for too long can raise the risk of infection and TSS, so prompt medical attention is key.