Menstrual hygiene and the adolescent girl

Cathalena Henry, Contributor

The start of the menstrual cycle is the most important change to take place in girls during their teenage years, and menstrual hygiene is a vital aspect of health education during this time. Despite the regular hygiene practices, girls could still be lacking in good menstrual hygiene care.

In many cultures, women and girls are still heavily restricted from carrying out certain domestic and religious activities during menstruation due to their 'impurity' at this time. In some cultures, a girl has to drop out of school during this time. The restrictions are a result of myths and superstitions concerning menstrual hygiene.

Poor Hygiene and Infections

Due to this idea of females being unclean during menstruation, many cultures in the past isolated them at that time of the month. While in isolation, they would pay strict attention to their 'womanly' needs. In developed countries, these superstitions are largely absent. Modern-day practices, however, allow females to carry on with their normal activities while menstruating. In cases where they become too busy, they could forget to change their sanitary pad on time, therefore, wearing it for too long. Many teenage girls do not know that with poor menstrual hygiene practices they put themselves at risk of developing reproductive tract infections.

Ways in Which Infection May Be Contracted

Wearing pads until they become soaked with blood increases the chance of developing infections. If tampons are used, heavy-flow tampons on a light flow increases the risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS), a rare but deadly disease caused by bacteria that can produce toxins. In some cases, a girl may have economic challenges and is unable to sustain the use of pads, especially if she has a heavy flow throughout the period. She may decide to add other material to make it easier on the pocket. This is another way in which harmful bacteria may be transmitted to the reproductive tract. Using additional material such as cloth and toilet tissue could prove to be an unsafe practice.

Helpful Hygiene Practices During Menstruation

Wash hands well before and after changing pads. Stock up on pads before the period starts to prevent having to use additional material. Prolonged wearing of pads will cause the rise of unpleasant odours. During a period, change pads regularly to lower the risk of developing harmful bacteria. Use soap and water to wash before and after school. During school hours, use good-quality wipes to clean the genital area thoroughly when changing pads at school. Cotton underwear reduces heat that may be conducive to the spread of harmful bacteria.

Keep Body Flora Healthy

Many females feel uncomfortable and unclean during menstruation and may wish to bathe more regularly than usual. Although proper cleaning is necessary, there is no need to clean inside the vagina while seeing the period. This may disrupt the normal body flora and increase the risk of infection.

Symptoms of Toxic Shock Syndrome

  • Sudden high fever
  • Muscle ache
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness and/or fainting
  • Sunburn-like rash
  • Sore throat
  • Bloodshot eyes