Doctors suggest coping with the tampon shortage by exploring reusable menstrual products, such as a menstrual cup (L) or period underwear. Photo courtesy of Pixabay
June 28 (UPI) -- Amid a U.S. tampon shortage, health experts urge women to avoid substituting homemade products or trying to stretch a scant supply by wearing tampons for too long.
They also suggest exploring reusable menstrual products, such as a menstrual cup or disc or period underwear.
Industry analysts attribute the continuing tampon shortage to two main factors exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic: ongoing supply chain problems and a shortage of raw materials, including plastic and paper.
Some obstetrician-gynecologists worry the shortage is hitting disadvantaged communities particularly hard.
"The current tampon shortage is unsettling and places people at risk of discomfort and even harm," Dr. Jen Villavicencio, an ob-gyn who practices in Silver Spring, Md., told UPI.
"Lack of access to affordable menstrual hygiene products is not a new issue and impacts marginalized populations such as those with housing instability, people who are incarcerated and those without access to clean, safe bathrooms," Villavicencio said.
Villavicencio, a first-generation Cuban American who leads equity transformation at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, noted that "while reusable menstrual products can be cost-effective in the long run, they come with hefty upfront costs, illuminating once again that menstrual equity is critical."
The cost of a double-pack of menstrual cups ranges from about $8 to more than $100 on Walmart's website; packs of period underwear run from about $8 up to nearly $40.
Dr. Kate White, a Boston-based ob-gyn in practice for 20 years, told UPI she is offering three pieces of advice to her patients on the tampon shortage.
"The first is, this might be a good time to try different period products you've never tried before," such as menstrual "cups or discs or even period underwear," White said.
"The second is, as you try to figure out what product to use, make sure you don't make your own tampons. This is not a good area for DIY," she said, since anything put into the body may leach or fall apart and cause serious infection.
"Third, I don't know how long the shortage is going to last, but people could talk to their doctor about how to stop their period for awhile" by using hormonal birth control, White said.
Villavicencio also advised caution in using tampons during the shortage.
"People should not undertake any efforts to extend the use of their tampons" during menstruation, she said. "They should continue to follow appropriate tampon use recommendations to avoid putting themselves in unhealthy situations."
Villavicencio pointed to the ACOG recommendation that people who are menstruating change their tampons every 4 to 8 hours.
Doing this reduces the risk of toxic shock syndrome, "which, while rare, can be deadly," she said.
Villavicencio also urged people to be careful in how they interpret online chatter and avoid taking matters into their own hands by trying to create the product at home.
"The Internet can be a highly unreliable source of medical information, and we do not recommend to anyone that they try to make their own tampons, as the risk of infection would be grave compared with store-bought tampons," she said.
Alternative products might have potential safety issues, too. For example, some manufacturers of period underwear are being sued for products allegedly containing harmful chemicals.