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 that may get stuck include tampons, condoms (or pieces of a condom if it has split), a contraceptive device (such as a diaphragm or sponge), or something inserted for sexual pleasure, such as a sex toy.
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 tampon is ‘retained’ when the tampon has been inserted but later becomes either stuck or ‘lost’. Reasons for this may include:
- putting in a new tampon before taking out the previous 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 a second tampon while one is still inside. In these cases, the tampon can turn sideways so 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 become lodged 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.
Signs of a retained object or tampon
Signs that you may have a retained object in your vagina include:
- discharge from the vagina (it may be yellow, green, pink, grey or brown in colour)
- discharge that has a very bad smell
- a very bad smell from the vaginal area but no discharge
- a high temperature
- vaginal itching
- pain or discomfort when passing urine
- pain around the pelvis or abdomen (below the belly button and above the genital area)
- redness of the skin or rash around the genital area
- swelling of the vaginal area
Removing a foreign body or tampon
You should not attempt to remove a large, delicate or fragile object because you may damage your vagina. Instead, visit your doctor or emergency department as soon as possible.
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 above, you may want to try removing it carefully yourself.
Never try to remove an object with another object. You could damage yourself or develop an infection.
First, make sure your hands are thoroughly washed before you try to remove anything because this will stop any outside bacteria from entering your 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 trying to have a bowel movement or pushing out a baby. This might help push the object down.
After that, insert one finger into your vagina and reach in as far as possible, making circular and back and forward movements. Try to feel the area at the top of your vagina because this is where items like tampons often get stuck. If you feel the object, remove your finger then place 2 fingers into the same area, trapping the object between them, then try pulling it out gently.
When to get help
You should visit your doctor or practice nurse if you cannot easily remove the object yourself or if you are worried about whether or not you have put an object in and forgotten about it. You should also visit the doctor if you have a retained object and symptoms that suggest an infection such as a fever, pain, swelling or redness.
An object should be removed as soon as possible, especially if a tampon or a large or delicate object is stuck (for example, something sharp or made from glass). If a fragile object breaks, do not try to remove it any further — go to your nearest emergency department immediately.
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For further advice, you should contact your doctor or call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria).
Do not be embarrassed. Remember, the doctors and nurses have assisted women in a similar situation before.
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Last reviewed: February 2022