Thoughts on Tampons as Survival Medical Items
(Joe Alton MD says: Today we have a guest post by Eric Richard, Registered Nurse, former Army Combat Medic, and founder of Medical Survivalists Facebook Group. Tampons are commonly on survivalists’ lists of survival medical supplies as a way to stop bleeding; but are they really effective for anything more than the purpose for which they were manufactured? Eric gives his opinions below:)
So I’m still seeing posts and comments about tampons as wound dressings. I’m going to try my damnedest to nail it home why this is a incorrect assumption. First off let me say I’m an Army Combat Medic of 8years, now a Registered Nurse who’s been working in a Level one Trauma Center for going on 10years, I got a pretty good idea about what I’m talking about.
A tampon is designed to be inserted into the vagina of a woman in order to absorb menstrual fluids, which are discharged over the course of a few days. Now menstrual fluid is made up of roughly 40-50% actual blood, and then several other types of tissues, such as lining of the uterus, unfertilized eggs that have been broken down, some excreted hormones, and possibly vaginal secretions. None of these fluids are pressurized, like arterial blood, is throughout the body. Last time I checked menstrual fluids weren’t pressurized or required to sustain life to other organs of the body, like the brain for instance.
Now let’s look at a tampons packaging for a minute, in a high-stress event trying to open, deploy, and apply such a small device with limited fine-motor-skills due to an increase of adrenaline is going to prove to be difficult. You have to open the package three times before you can even use it, for me that rules it out alone right there. Some come in plastic or cardboard applicators that can be confusing as hell, even for a grown woman who has been doing this her entire adult life, let alone a grown man trying to plug bullet holes with them while in a environment like a gunfight.
Another thing to mention is tampons are not sterilized when they leave the manufacturer, and there really is not a need for them to be.
When using a wound packing from QuikClot, Celox or otherwise, it is pretty damn obvious that a tampon doesn’t remotely come close to filling a ballistic wound cavity.
Now let’s talk about the type of bleeding one might come across from a single gunshot wound. Arterial blood is made up of oxygen-rich pressurized blood that transports minerals, vitamins, nutrients, and all sorts of other good stuff the body and its organs need in order to function. The brain requires several of these things in order to keep the rest of the body alive. This is why we assess and treat injuries in the order of Circulation, Airway, Breathing (CAB), or Major hemorrhage, Airway, Respirations, Circulation, Head (MARCH). The point is that we have to control the bleeding first, in order to ensure blood circulation. That way the brain can continue working and keep the rest of the body going, which is ultimately what you’re trying to achieve.
Modern-day pressure dressings are in fact designed to treat penetrating traumatic injuries related to austere or combat environments. They are designed from the ground up to control moderate to severe bleeding, including pressurized arterial bleeding. Pressure dressings like the Olaes from Tactical Medical Solutions are packaged for field-like environments. Most manufacturers use gamma irradiation to sterilize their pressure dressings.
Ask yourself: “What are you preparing for, just a gunshot wound, or are you preparing for as many different penetrating traumatic injuries as possible with this one bandage?” Most of us are far more likely to come across penetrating wounds and various lacerations resulting from a motor vehicle accidents (MVA) than we will from bullets.
Now let’s take into account the size difference between a real pressure dressing and a tampon. I’m not going to get into the anatomy of a ballistic wound cavity, at least not yet anyway. But let me say that a single tampon is not my “go-to” bandage for wound packing in a three-dimensional cavity that is bleeding profusely in the middle of a Combat setting, in the freezing rain, immediately following an attempted car-jacking/murder where a gunfight broke out and now my loved one is sprawled on the pavement bleeding out of the middle of their right thigh and left armpit. But hell if you want to count on “improvising, during such an event……good luck with that.
(Dr. Bones says: Thanks to Eric, who makes a lot of good points in his post. There are a lot of different types of wounds with various shapes and sizes. It would be a very rare circumstance, in my opinion, for a wound to be exactly the size and character where a tampon would apply any effective pressure on an arterial bleed.)
Find out more about bleeding wounds and 150 other medical topics in times of trouble in the 700 page Third Edition of “The Survival Medicine Handbook: The Essential Guide for When Medical Help is Not on the Way”., winner of the 2017 Book Excellence Award in the medical category.