Here's the real scoop, straight from an ob-gyn.

By Erin Lukas
Updated Aug 10, 2020 @ 8:00 pm
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So, you forgot to change your tampon. Even though every tampon user knows from reading the back of the box that you're supposed to change a tampon every eight hours, it doesn't always happen. But whatever life scenario made you lose track of time, successfully wearing a tampon for an extra hour or so without it leaking isn't a reason to celebrate.

The reality is that anything you put in your vagina has an expiry date — and the longer you leave a tampon in, the greater the risk for developing infections.

"Even though a tampon is a 'sterile' foreign object, you still have to be mindful about how long you leave it inside this delicate and sensitive area of the body," says Sherry Ross, M.D, women’s health expert and author of She-ology. The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period. "The risk of a vaginal infection or Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) will be increased if you don’t follow the basic hygienic rules of tampon use." Even though TSS is an extremely rare complication of a staph bacterial infection, it's crucial to understand what TSS is and how you can avoid the deadly infection, Dr. Ross says.

So, how long can you leave a tampon in without upping your risk? Dr. Ross says that, realistically, a tampon should be changed every four to eight hours — just like directions on the tampon box tell you to do. (This means yes, you can sleep with a tampon in — as long as you don't sleep longer than that.) Expect to go through three to six tampons a day for a "normal" menstrual flow.

Not only will this minimize the risk of TSS, but sticking to this routine will also prevent unwanted odors and infections. "When tampons are left in longer than eight hours, they essentially turn into a breeding ground for yeast and bacteria to grow in the vagina," Dr. Ross says. "If the delicate pH balance of the vagina is disrupted by a blood-filled tampon that’s been sitting there for a long period of time, an infection can occur," she explains. So, yeah, it's best not to stretch it.

As for how long can you leave a super tampon in for, well, tampon size or material doesn't matter, but opting for the lowest possible absorbency can also minimize the risk of toxic shock and other bacterial infections, she adds.

"If you have a heavy period, using super-absorbent tampons is safe and often necessary, but remember to change it frequently," suggests Dr. Ross. And if your flow is very light? "Alternate tampons and sanitary napkins when possible," she adds.

If you're consistently forgetting to change your tampon (it happens to the best of us), set an iCal reminder — or opt for a menstrual cup, which collects menstrual fluid rather than absorbing it and has a lower risk of TSS.