Tampons, Evaluating the Risks

I know this might be hard to hear, considering how much we love our tampons. It seems like everyone has their favorite brand and are loyal to them for years. However, this month Kotex recalled their Natural Balance Security Unscented Tampons, because they’re contaminated with a bacterium that could cause urinary tract infections, vaginal infections, pelvic inflammatory disease, and could potentially threaten the lives of many women. It’s time that we take a serious look at the effect of tampons on the woman’s body and the possible risks associated with them. We should be asking ourselves and the makers of tampons some key questions: What are tampons made of?  Can tampons cause yeast infections, infertility, vaginal bleeding? How many women die of tampon related toxic shock syndrome (TSS) every year? What other complications can arise from tampon use?

The information available now is limited and outdated. There are two major issues associated with tampon use that could be harmful to women. One of the issues is the presence of dioxin in tampon fibers; dioxin is a group of chemical compounds left behind during the tampon bleaching process that have been found to be toxic to the human body. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last released a statement in 2009 where they stated that the tampon manufacturers themselves have provided them with the results of scientific studies that prove that the amount of dioxin found in tampons is not harmful. While only trace amounts, the long term effects of dioxin in one of the most absorbent parts of the human body have not been researched. Anyway, should the FDA really trust the research provided by the same companies that profit from the sale of these tampons?

The other major issue with tampons is Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), which is a tampon related disease which presents itself with flu-like symptoms, but if left untreated can lead to multiple organ failure and death. The FDA, in the article Tampons and Asbestos, Dioxin, & Toxic Shock Syndrome, admit they don’t know how the use of tampons is related to the disease:


“Although scientists have recognized an association between TSS and tampon use, the exact connection remains unclear. Research conducted by the CDC suggested that use of some high absorbency tampons increased the risk of TSS in menstruating women. “   


Unfortunately, the last active surveillance done by the Center of Disease Control (CDC) on TSS was conducted in 1996 and the latest information on TSS available on their website is from 2005. Meanwhile women are dying from TSS and many others are giving testimony of how the use of tampons has affected their lives. Neither the FDA nor the CDC mentions yeast infections, urinary tract infections, or infertility. (Dioxin has also been known to cause endometriosis which can lead to infertility.)


On the other hand we have Dr. Philip M. Tierno Jr., Director of Clinical Microbiology and Diagnostic Immunology at Tisch Hospital, who has publicly denounced the dangers of tampons, and New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney who has been trying for years to pass the Robin Danielson act. The Act wishes to establish a program to research the risks associated with the presence of dioxin in feminine hygiene products and to collect and analyze data on toxic shock syndrome. The act was first introduced in 1997 but has yet to be passed by congress. 

I am not an expert or a doctor, but I am a woman. I would like to share my story in order to raise awareness amongst others like me.  It all started with what seemed like a routine yeast infection. I had never gotten one before so I was a little freaked out and called the gynecologist hoping to be seen soon.  The only appointment available was in two weeks, but by then my infection was gone and the doctor prescribed a cream to treat my remaining symptoms.  Everything seemed fine, but the next month the infection came back. Again, by the time I was able to see the doctor the infection was gone, a PAP smear was done and the results revealed the presence of the yeast associated with the common yeast infection, but nothing out of the ordinary.  Month after month the infection came back, each time it was worse and lasted longer. I switched doctors because apparently my infections were not a cause of concern to the gynecologist. By now my sex life was almost non-existent and I spent two weeks out of each month in discomfort and pain. The doctors suggested trying simple things like switching my tampon to a brand that advertised to reduce the vaginal PH during your menstruation; eliminating all scented creams, shampoos, soaps, detergents and feminine products from my home; changing my diet to eliminating refined sugar; and they prescribed two different antibiotics.  Some of these recommendations lessened my symptoms, but never eliminated the infection. Finally a nurse practitioner suggested we try a non-conventional treatment, boric acid capsules. That didn’t help either, and by now I was desperate.

Nobody seemed to know why I had chronic yeast infections or how I could treat them. The nurse practitioner did mention that the amount of yeast present was not proportional to the inflammation and irritation that I was experiencing. I have used tampons for years and have read the warning on the box about TSS but I never thought that it could be related to anything else. At my mother’s suggestion, who has always been against the use of tampons, and my sister who experienced something similar, I stopped using tampons. My infections disappeared!! I suffered chronic yeast infections for a whole year before being able to get relief. The medical community was not very helpful or resourceful in my case and only thanks to the testimony of other women was I able to regain my sex life and my sanity. There is no medical literature that confirms the link between tampons and yeast infections, thus there have not been any recorded cases made public, which could be why none of the medical professionals suggested I stop wearing tampons. Needless to say, I will not be using tampons again.

 There is a lot more to say about this, but I hope this will help you evaluate the risks and make your own decisions. Whatever you decide, share this information with other women, and if you have lived something similar or have had a disease associated with tampon use, please share it with us. Until more research is done we will not know the long terms effects of the use of tampons on our body, and until more research is done only our voices will be able to save lives.