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Menstrual aids have been used for centuries to soak up the flow of blood from menstrual periods. Since the middle of the 20th century, it has been possible to buy disposable menstrual aids rather than use rags or cloths which needed soaking and cleaning as they were re-used.
Disposable pads used to be secured to the underwear or around the body by pins and ties, but these days are secured to the crotch of the underwear by adhesive strips. Other names for these pads are sanitary towels, pads or napkins. Different brands and ranges have varying degrees of absorbency and shapes (such as ‘wings’ that wrap around the underwear). You can even buy scented or even coloured pads.
Panty liners are similar and are intended for use on days when the flow of menstrual fluid is light, or when there is light spotting or mucous produced during your menstrual cycle.
Maternity pads are particularly absorbent in order to last longer as the flow of fluid is heavier just after giving birth.
All sanitary pads should be changed every four to six hours or more frequently when the menstrual flow is heavy. The pads may develop an odour after several hours due to the exposure of menstrual fluids to the air.
Tampons were the next development in the disposable menstrual aids market. These are made of compressed cotton or a blend of cotton and rayon and are cylinders with a cord attached to allow for easy removal. They are inserted, either with a finger or with the aid of an applicator, into the vaginal canal. They remain there until they are removed by pulling on the cord.
Tampons, like sanitary pads, come in a range of sizes and absorbencies, and should also be changed frequently, at least every eight hours. It may be necessary for you to change your tampon more frequently, or to use both a tampon and a sanitary towel or panty liner, in case of overflow.
Each tampon should come individually wrapped and be unwrapped immediately before insertion. Once removed, tampons should be disposed of immediately, in either a specific device for sanitary product disposal, or wrapped in toilet paper and placed in the rubbish bin, together with any wrappings and applicators.
All community pharmacies stock menstrual products and can advise you on the most appropriate products you may need to manage the demands of your menstrual cycle. Your community pharmacist will be able to advise you if you have worries or concerns about your periods, particularly if you have noticed any changes or difficulties with your cycle.