Having anything stuck in your vagina can be alarming, but it’s not as dangerous as it sounds. Your vagina is only 3 to 4 inches deep. Plus, the opening of your cervix is only large enough to let blood out and semen in.

This means that your tampon isn’t lost in some other area your body, even if you can’t feel the string. But it’s possible for a tampon to move far up enough in your vagina that it turns sideways. When this happens, you probably won’t be able to feel the string.

Read on to learn more about stuck tampons, including how to safely remove them on your own.

If you’re not sure whether you have a tampon stuck in your vagina, your body will usually give you a few signals that something’s not right.

Signs that you might have a stuck tampon include:

  • brown, green, yellow, pink, or gray vaginal discharge
  • foul-smelling vaginal discharge
  • foul odor from your vagina with no discharge
  • itching inside your vagina or on your vulva
  • rash or redness around your genitals
  • uncomfortable or painful urination
  • abdominal or pelvic pain
  • swelling in or around your vagina
  • fever of 104°F (40°C) or higher

These are all symptoms of an infection caused by a foreign object, such as a tampon, in your vagina for too long. If you’re experiencing any of these, head to an urgent care clinic or emergency room as soon as possible. Don’t try to remove the tampon yourself. A doctor will need to carefully remove the tampon and treat the infection.

If you don’t notice any signs of an infection, you can remove a stuck tampon yourself. Before getting started, make sure your nails are trimmed and smooth. This will prevent any small cuts in your vagina, which could lead to an infection.

Once you’re ready, wash your hands with warm water and soap. Cover up any open cuts or scabs on your fingers with a bandage.

Follow these steps to find the tampon:

  1. Lie down or sit on a toilet with your feet resting on a tool. You can also try standing with one leg on the seat of the toilet.
  2. Bear down or push as if you’re having a bowel movement. In some cases, this might be enough to push the tampon out.
  3. If you still can’t feel anything, take a deep breath and relax your muscles.
  4. Carefully insert one finger into your vagina. Slowly move it in a circle, sweeping the inside of your vagina for any sign of the tampon. Try to reach up near your cervix as well.

When you’re trying to find or remove a tampon, never use a foreign object, such as tweezers, to grab the tampon.

Once you know where the tampon is, follow these steps to remove it:

  1. Try to relax, especially your pelvic muscles, as much as you can.
  2. Insert two fingers and try to grasp the tampon or its string. Using lubricant might help to ease any discomfort.
  3. Pull the tampon out very gently.
  4. Check the tampon for any signs that a piece of it might still be in your vagina.

If you can’t find or remove the tampon, or you think there might still be some pieces in your vagina, see a doctor right away to have it removed. Without quick treatment, a stuck tampon can turn into a potentially life-threatening infection.

Having a tampon stuck in your vagina increases your risk of developing toxic shock syndrome (TSS), a serious infection. Not everyone in this situation will develop TSS, but the longer the tampon’s stuck, the greater the risk.

TSS can quickly lead to kidney failure, shock, or even death, so seek emergency treatment if you have a stuck tampon with any of the following symptoms:

  • headache
  • achy muscles
  • disorientation
  • sudden high fever
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • drop in blood pressure
  • red, sunburn-like rash on the palms and bottoms of your feet
  • a red discoloration of your throat, mouth, and eyes
  • convulsions

If you can’t reach a stuck tampon or aren’t sure whether a tampon is stuck in your vagina, it’s best to play it safe. Head to an urgent care clinic or emergency room right away to avoid TSS.

If you’re already experiencing the symptoms of an infection or of TSS, go to your nearest emergency room. TSS is a medical emergency and can become critical very quickly. It’s important to get prompt treatment, including the removal of the stuck tampon and antibiotics to combat the infection.

If you have a tampon stuck in your vagina, try relaxing your muscles. This will make it easier to feel for the stuck tampon. If you notice any signs of an infection or can’t find the tampon, seek immediately medical care. It’s important to act fast in this situation, as an infection caused by a stuck tampon can quickly become life-threatening.