Sometimes an object (also known as a foreign body) can become stuck in the vagina or you may simply forget it is there. Common objects include tampons, condoms, or pieces of a condom (if one has split), a contraceptive device (such as a cap or sponge), or something that has been inserted for sexual pleasure (such as sex toys).
It is important for the object to be removed as soon as possible. If you have tried to remove it but failed, you should consult a health professional as soon as possible.
A retained tampon is when a woman has inserted a tampon and it becomes either stuck or ‘lost’. Reasons for this can include:
- putting in a new one before taking out the last one
- having sex with a tampon in
- simply forgetting about it at the end of a period.
The vagina is quite elastic so it is possible to have sex or insert another tampon whilst another is still inside. In these cases, the tampon can turn sideways, the string gets drawn in, and it becomes difficult to remove.
When a woman forgets to take a tampon out at the end of her period, it can again turn sideways and lodge at the top of the vagina next to the cervix. The string may still be noticeable.
A tampon cannot get lost in the abdomen. The cervix is at the end of the vagina and only has a tiny opening to allow blood or semen through. Damage cannot be caused to the vagina or cervix by using a tampon.
The main concern with a retained tampon is an infection or toxic shock syndrome (TSS), but this is very rare. Visit healthdirect for more information about toxic shock syndrome.
Signs of a retained object or tampon
You may not know or may have forgotten about an object or tampon being in your vagina. Signs that you may have a retained object in your vagina include:
- discharge from your vagina (it may be yellow, green, pink, grey or brown in colour)
- discharge that may smell very bad
- a very bad smell from your vaginal area but no discharge
- a high temperature of 40C or above
- vaginal itching
- pain or discomfort when passing urine (weeing)
- pain around the pelvis or abdomen (below the belly button and above the genital area)
- redness of the skin around your genital area
- swelling of the vaginal area
- a rash around the vaginal area.
If you have any of these symptoms, do not attempt to remove the object or tampon. You can check your symptoms with healthdirect’s Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.
For further advise, you should contact your doctor or call healthdirect on 1800 022 222.
Removing a foreign body or tampon
Never try to remove an object with another object. You could damage yourself or develop an infection. If you have a foreign object in your vagina, or you have lost a tampon or it has become stuck, and you have none of the symptoms listed on the previous page, you may want to try removing it carefully yourself.
Removal of large or delicate (fragile) objects should not be attempted by yourself, as you may damage your vagina. Visit your doctor or emergency department as soon as possible.
Method for removing a foreign body or tampon
First, make sure your hands are thoroughly washed before you try to remove anything as it will stop any outside bacteria from entering the vagina. If you have any scratches or cuts on your hands, make sure these are covered.
Sit on a toilet with your feet resting on something that is about 30 centimetres high and push as if you are having a bowel movement (poo) or pushing out a baby. This might help push the object down.
After this, insert one finger inside your vagina and reach as far as possible making circular and back and forward movements. Try to feel the area at the top of your vagina as this is where items like tampons often get stuck. If you feel the object, remove your finger and then place two fingers into the same area, trapping the object between them, and try pulling it out.
When to get help
You should visit your doctor or practice nurse if you cannot easily remove it yourself or if you have worries about whether or not you have put an object in and forgotten.
Removal should be done as soon as possible, especially if a tampon is stuck, or a large or delicate object is stuck (for example, something sharp or made from glass). If the fragile object breaks do not try to remove it any further, go to your nearest emergency department for medical assessment.
Do not be embarrassed. Remember the doctors and nurses have assisted women with similar symptoms before.
Not sure what to do next?
If you are still concerned about a retained object or tampon, check your symptoms with healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.
The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).
Last reviewed: July 2015