What to Do If a Tampon Is Stuck Inside You

No, it's not lost forever. But you're definitely going to want to get it out. Here's how.

Female hand pulling string from pink shape with tampon shadow
Photo: Alex Sandoval

When you hear stories of vagina-owners getting tampons stuck inside their body, it's easy to assume it would never happen to you. After all, you've been using them for ages without any issues. But just because you've become a veritable feminine product pro since first learning how to use them at sleepaway camp doesn't mean you're exempt from the possibility of a stuck tampon.

Meaning, if you do end up with a lodged bundle of cotton, don't stress: There's an expert-backed way to remove it at home, and in the event that doesn't work, your doc can fish it out. And if you end up needing to phone in an expert for help, there's no reason to be embarrassed — they see this pretty often. "This happens fairly frequently — several times a year, as often as once a month to most busy practitioners," says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale Medical School.

Whether you want to take matters into your own hands (literally) before calling in reinforcements or head straight to the doctor's office, here's everything you need to know about a stuck tampon.

How a Tampon Can Get Stuck In Your Vagina

There are a few different ways you might find yourself in this situation, says Lauren Streicher, M.D., a professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. "One of the most common ways is you put a tampon in at the end of your period [and] forget it's there." Or you can be mid-menstruation, forget you had a tampon in, and put another one in later, causing "the first one [to] get pushed back into the vagina," she explains. (

Having sex with a tampon inserted could also get it good and stuck, as it pushes the tampon further back into the vagina, says Christine Greves, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies. And in some cases, the tampon string could break or move up into the vagina, making it even easier to forget that you put one in earlier.

Whatever the reason you're tampon got stuck inside you, know this: It's not gone forever and, no, it cannot get lost inside you. The only other opening is through your cervix at the top of your vagina, which is too small for a tampon to pass through, according to the U.K. National Health Service.

Signs or Symptoms of a Stuck Tampon

It's entirely possible to have a tampon stuck up there and not realize it, but doctors say you should start to suspect a stuck tampon situation if you notice one of the following signs:

A foul order. Dried blood and bacteria can collect around the tampon, creating a not-so-pleasant scent that's best described as intense and musty and fills up a room, says Dr. Streicher.

Discolored and/or bad-smelling discharge. If it's watery and brown — and, added bonus, bad-smelling — it's quite possible you have a stuck tampon, says Dr. Streicher.

Pain or itching. It's possible to have a tampon stuck up there and not really feel anything, says Dr. Greves. But you might also feel some vaginal itchiness or even soreness (think: pelvic cramping).

Fever. A high temperature alongside these symptoms can hint not only at a stuck tampon but also infection, such as toxic shock syndrome (TSS) — although it's "extremely rare," notes Dr. Minkin.

ICYDK, toxic shock syndrome is a "bacterial infection that can cause severe illness due to toxins that enter the bloodstream and lead to inflammation," Jessica Shepherd, M.D., M.B.A., F.A.C.O.G., previously told Shape. Essentially, any product that collects menstrual blood, including tampons, could allow TSS-causing bacteria to grow if left too in the vagina, according to the University of Washington Medicine. From there, the bacteria — commonly Staphylococcus aureus — can enter the bloodstream through tiny tears in the vagina caused by, yup, stuck tampons.

Symptoms of TSS can include:

  • A sudden high fever
  • Low blood pressure
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • A rash that looks like a sunburn, especially on your palms and soles
  • Confusion
  • Muscle aches
  • Redness of your eyes, mouth, and throat
  • Seizures
  • Headaches

TSS can progress to shock, kidney failure, and even death, so if you develop any of these symptoms, you'll want to get to the ER ASAP, says Dr. Minkin. Again, though, TSS is very rare. It impacts less than one out of every 100,000 people in the U.S., according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and those numbers include people who develop TSS from other causes, too, including cuts and burns, surgery, and viral infections. (BTW, can you sleep with a tampon in?)

How to Remove a Stuck Tampon

If you realize you have a tampon stuck in your vaginal canal, don't panic. "It is not an emergency," says Dr. Minkin. But once you come to this realization, you are going to want to get it out, asap.

So how do you remove a stuck tampon? For starters, head to the bathroom and wash your hands thoroughly. Sit on the toilet and elevate your feet, propping them up on something such as a stool. "Try to push down a little bit like you're having a bowel movement," she says. Then, place a finger or two inside your vagina and see if you can feel the tampon or a string.

If it feels uncomfortable when you place your fingers in there, Dr. Greves recommends using some lubrication. Once you feel the stuck tampon, scoop your fingers around it and pull it down, says Dr. Streicher. "Nine times out of 10, this will do the trick."

No dice? If you don't feel anything when you reach up in there or you're not 100-percent sure you actually have a tampon stuck inside you, it's time to call your doctor. By the way, this is more of a see your regular physician vs. going to the ER kind of thing. "Don't go to the ER for this — that's overkill," says Dr. Streicher.

At your doctor's office, they'll often use a speculum to see inside your vagina and can usually remove the tampon pretty easily, says Dr. Greves. And Dr. Streicher agrees: "It takes literally five seconds for a doctor to get it out."

What to Do After a Stuck Tampon Is Removed

As for aftercare, doctors say it's not a terrible idea to wash yourself out down there. "This is probably one of the few times I do encourage women to do a douche," says Dr. Minkin. "It will help clear out remnants if the tampon has partially fallen apart."

It's also a good idea to use an odor-eliminating gel in your vagina to help acidify it and get rid of the smell, adds Dr. Streicher. "Generally, if you have an odor, it's because your vaginal pH is off," she explains. "A couple of doses of RepHresh gel will help."

Overall, though, ob-gyns stress that you should not feel weird about reaching out for help when it comes to a stuck tampon. "Don't be embarrassed about it," says Dr. Greves. "We see this kind of thing all the time."

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