September 9, 2022

What Happens if You Leave a Tampon in Too Long?

In addition to toxic shock syndrome, you risk other vaginal infections

Tampons on a wooden panel next to an alarm clock.

When was the last time you put a tampon in? Oh, shoot. Is that tampon still in? Now what?!


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Whether you lost track of time or simply forgot you were on your period, it’s probably happened to you at some point: You’ve left your tampon in too long, and now alarm bells are going off in your head.

You’ve probably heard that wearing a tampon for too long can result in toxic shock syndrome. But what does that mean, and are there any other risks? Women’s health specialist Sara Youngblood, CNP, explains why it’s important to change your tampon regularly and what can happen if you don’t.

How long should you leave a tampon in?

The instructions on your tampon box are clear: You should never keep the same tampon in for longer than eight hours. If you leave it in longer than that, you risk toxic shock syndrome and other health concerns.

If you really want to be on the safe side, though, you may want to change your tampon even more often.

“We typically recommend that you change your tampon every four to six hours, though many people will change them more frequently if they’re experiencing a heavy flow,” Youngblood says. “Definitely do not leave the same tampon in for longer than eight hours, which is when your risk goes up.”

Let’s repeat that last part for emphasis: This only applies to the same tampon. Every time you put in a new one, the clock restarts, and you have a new four- to eight-hour timeframe. As long as you change your tampon regularly throughout the day, it’s safe to wear them throughout the duration of your period.

Dangers of leaving a tampon in too long

When you leave a tampon inside of your vagina for longer than it’s meant to be there, you open yourself up to the risk of bacteria growth. Now, bacteria isn’t always a bad thing. Your vagina is already full of healthy bacteria that’s supposed to be there and that contributes to its health.

But things can pretty easily go awry.


“The vagina can be a breeding ground for bacteria because it’s dark, warm and moist,” Youngblood explains. “Those are bacteria’s favorite things.” When you leave a tampon in too long, you give bacteria a new place to grow. This can invite in bad bacteria and allow good bacteria to overgrow.

Be on the lookout for symptoms that can signify health concerns, like:

Youngblood explains some of the issues that can arise when you leave a tampon in too long.

Toxic shock syndrome

If you’ve ever even considered using tampons, you’re probably familiar with toxic shock syndrome, commonly known as TSS. It’s caused by strains of bacteria that produce toxins — and these strains can grow on tampons that aren’t changed often enough.

“Toxic shock syndrome is very well discussed in sexual education, which has led to a basic widespread understanding of not leaving a tampon in for too long,” Youngblood says.

Fortunately, TSS is very rare, affecting 1 to 3 people out of every 100,000 people who menstruate. But it primarily affects people ages 15 to 25 who use tampons and leave them in too long. And because it’s a life-threatening medical emergency, it’s critical to know the signs, which usually come on suddenly:

  • A rash that resembles a sunburn or red dots.
  • Nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea.
  • Dizziness, light-headedness or fainting.
  • High fever and chills.
  • Muscle aches and pain.
  • Peeling skin on your feet or hands.

“If you start to experience these symptoms, it’s critical that you get to an emergency room,” Youngblood warns.

Bacterial vaginosis

Remember how we talked about normal, healthy bacteria? “Sometimes, your vagina’s normal, healthy bacteria can overgrow, which causes an imbalance known as bacterial vaginosis,” Youngblood explains.


One thing that can cause that bacteria to overgrow is — you guessed it — leaving a tampon in too long. Luckily, though, bacterial vaginosis is easily treatable with medication from your doctor.

Bacterial vaginosis doesn’t always cause symptoms, but if you start to notice off-white, grey or greenish vaginal discharge, or if you smell a sort of fishy odor that’s stronger after sex and during your period, then it’s time to talk to your healthcare provider.


“If you have allergies or sensitivities to fragrances, leaving a scented tampon in too long could lead to vulvitis, an inflammation of the vulva,” Youngblood says. Your vulva is the outer part of your genitals, which includes your labia (inner and outer folds) and mons pubis (where your pubic hair is).

Vulvitis (sometimes known as vulvovaginitis) can be caused by infections, like bacterial vaginitis, and by irritants, including the ones in scented tampons. It can cause itchiness, redness, swelling and even blisters on your vulva. Just another reason to change your tampon on the regular (and to stay away from scented period products)!

How to prevent tampon troubles

You may already be accustomed to changing your tampon within four to eight hours, especially if you have a heavy flow and don’t want to bleed through. “For hygiene purposes, most people typically already change their tampons pretty frequently,” Youngblood says.

It’s also safe to sleep in a tampon, so long as you’re sleeping for eight hours or less and follow the same safety tips. “Put in a new tampon just before you get into bed, and change it first thing in the morning to prevent health risks,” Youngblood recommends. If you’ll be asleep for more than eight hours, stick to a pad or a menstrual cup instead.

And you can lessen the likelihood of leaving a tampon in too long by planning ahead and making tampons easily available no matter where you go. Stash spare tampons in your purse or backpack, and keep extras in your car and at the office. This way, whenever the time comes to swap in a new one, you’ll be ready.

Related Articles

Natural antibiotics, pills and herbs, displayed on bamboo spoons on wooden table.
December 5, 2023
Why You Shouldn’t Self-Treat With ‘Natural Antibiotics’

Natural doesn’t mean they’re safe or effective

Female swimmer in the water at edge of a pool
December 1, 2023
Can Exercise Reduce Your Risk of Breast Cancer?

Physical activity and weight management can minimize your chances of getting the disease

Two people standing in the cold.
November 29, 2023
10 Colds Not To Catch This Winter

The flu, RSV, COVID-19, pneumonia and more typically circulate during cold weather months

Parent breastfeeding baby on bed, against the headboard.
November 27, 2023
Looking for Foods To Increase Your Milk Supply? Think Big Picture

No single food will increase your milk, but an overall healthy diet will help

Parent uses manual baby aspirator to open up nasal passages of baby.
November 22, 2023
Prevent Phlegm in Your Baby’s Throat With a Nasal Aspirator

Keeping your baby’s airways clear of mucus helps with breathing and feeding

Two different vaccines and needles displayed in foreground.
November 22, 2023
Which Vaccines Can You Get at the Same Time?

Getting routine vaccinations together can save you time and may be more effective

Muffins and sweetbreads with frosting on trays at bakery.
November 22, 2023
13 Foods That You Didn’t Know Contain Dairy

Be sure to check the labels of common foods like canned tuna, bread, hot dogs and chocolate

Toddler drinking from a cup while at the table during dinner.
November 21, 2023
Toddler Drinks — What Does the Research Say About These Products?

They aren’t unhealthy, but they’re probably a waste of money

Trending Topics

group of hands holding different beverages
November 14, 2023
10 Myths About Drinking Alcohol You Should Stop Repeating

Coffee won’t cure a hangover and you definitely shouldn’t mix your cocktail with an energy drink

Person applies moisturizer as part of their skin care routine after a shower.
November 10, 2023
Korean Skin Care Routines: What You Need To Know

Focus on the philosophy — replenishing and respecting your skin — not necessarily the steps

glass of cherry juice with cherries on table
November 8, 2023
Sleepy Girl Mocktail: What’s in It and Does It Really Make You Sleep Better?

This social media sleep hack with tart cherry juice and magnesium could be worth a try