A used tampon is never pretty, but if you're forever terrified of toxic shock syndrome, despite it being rare, you've probably checked yours once or twice. It's a good way to tell if you've taken it out too early, and honestly, it's kind of hard to miss.
For the most part, it's going to look as you imagine it would. But have you ever noticed a yellow tint to yours? Not super-noticeable but definitely there?
If so, you're not losing it; there's a reason you have a yellow tampon—and it's not pee.
What causes a used tampon to look yellow?
Thankfully, one likely cause is pretty benign.
"When menstrual blood breaks down and mixes with other secretions, it can appear yellow," said Alexandra Stockwell. M.D., who practices in California and is the author of "Uncompromising Intimacy" and host of "The Intimate Marriage Podcast."
As you may know, wetness and (sometimes) discharge are healthy; they clean your vagina by getting bad bacteria out and they make sex more enjoyable. While discharge is usually clear or white, a slightly yellow color is normal, too, according to Nationwide Children's Hospital.
However, other potential causes of a yellow tampon are bacterial vaginosis (BV), a yeast infection or a sexually transmitted infection (STI), according to Laurence Orbuch, M.D., an OB-GYN and endometriosis surgeon, and the director of GYN Laparoscopic/Robotic Associates LA in Beverly Hills, California. Signs that one of these might be at play include swelling, pain during sex, a stinging sensation while you urinate and having to urinate more often than usual.
Something important to note: Abnormal discharge is common among women of reproductive age and usually caused by an infection, according to a 2017 study in the Indian Journal of Sexually Transmitted Diseases and AIDS.
At what point should you be concerned?
While a yellow tampon may be no biggie, it's best to play it safe by noticing what else is happening down there. Specifically, pay attention to what the discharge looks and smells like, and how you feel otherwise.
"If the yellow tint is a darker yellow or has a greenish tinge or has a strong odor to it, it is time to see a doctor and be tested for STIs and other diseases," Stockwell said.
Regarding how you feel: "If it is persistent or causing irritation, pain or other symptoms, one should seek medical attention," Orbuch said.
For example, greenish-yellow discharge accompanied by an itchy and sore vagina and vulva can be a sign of trichomoniasis or noninfectious vaginitis, according to Cleveland Clinic. In this case, see your doctor for an antibiotic or ointment.
Best practices for avoiding infections
If you're uncomfortable with the sight and potential cause for concern, that's certainly understandable. Try to maintain the best practices Orbuch recommended.
"Avoid douching or other products as they can alter the vaginal pH, which can cause bacterial vaginosis or yeast infections," he said. "Also, change tampons frequently enough to avoid causing a pH alteration and vaginal discharge."
(FYI: "Frequently enough" means not longer than eight hours, according to Planned Parenthood.)
But generally speaking, you don't need to worry too much about a yellow tampon.
"Without the color or smell described, it's really not that big a deal and can even coincide with dietary changes or inadequate water intake," Stockwell said. "In fact, without the darker color, greenish tinge or unusual odor, it's most likely part of normal menstrual shedding."