Some objects are designed for use in a woman's vagina. These include tampons, vaginal suppositories, and medications delivered through the vagina. Others are not intended to be inserted and may be placed there accidentally or intentionally. Doctors referred to objects found in the vagina as "foreign bodies." These foreign bodies may produce symptoms or be asymptomatic for long periods of time.
Small objects inserted into the vagina do not generally cause pain. Unusual objects, generally those larger than the customary vaginal diameter, may cause pain because of distention. Other objects may cause pain due to sharp edges.
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While a variety of symptoms may result from a foreign body in the vagina, the most common symptoms are bleeding or foul-smelling vaginal discharge. Less common symptoms may include pain or urinary discomfort.
Perforation through the vagina into the abdominal cavity may also result in acute abdominal symptoms. Systemic infection can occur on rare occasion.
Causes of a Vaginal Foreign Body
The most common foreign body of the vagina in small children is small amounts of fibrous material from clothing and carpets, or most often, toilet paper. They may also place objects in their vagina at a time of self-exploration. The objects may be forgotten, or once placed in the vagina, unable to be removed by the child. Other common objects include marker caps or crayons. The objects found in children generally are small and do not cause pain from distention. Children will generally not place objects larger than the vaginal entrance due to discomfort.
Adolescent women may use tampons once their period begins. Occasionally, these tampons are forgotten and may not be removed for days. The breakage of a condom may also result in bits of latex or non-latex material being left in the vagina.
Adults may place foreign objects into the vagina as part of a sexual experience. Less commonly unusual objects may be placed in the vagina as the result of abuse. Adults may also experience forgotten tampons or bits of a condom.
While small objects placed in the vagina may remain for a period of time without symptoms, larger objects may produce pain or discomfort immediately, thus precipitating a visit to a doctor.
Symptoms of a Foreign Body in the Vagina
Common symptoms of a vaginal foreign body include the following:
Vaginal discharge, generally foul-smelling and yellow, pink, or brown
Discomfort due to vaginal discharge producing skin irritation
Abdominal or pelvic pain from placement of large objects or perforation of a foreign body into the abdominal cavity
Swelling of the vagina and its entrance
Rash in the vaginal area
The presence of a vaginal foreign body may alter the normal bacterial flora of the vagina, thus resulting in repeated efforts to treat "vaginitis." The symptoms of a vaginal discharge may be interpreted as vaginitis, a sexually transmitted infection or even a yeast infection. Repeated use of antibiotics or other medications will not remove the symptoms if a foreign body remains present.
Objects left in the vagina very rarely lead to serious complications. However, the medical literature has had several case reports of pelvic abscess and subsequent scarring.