Always pads aren’t always the culprit

I had a patient fall into my arms and sob recently because she was so relieved at the news I had given her.

Contrary to what it sounds like I hadn’t given her a reprieve from a fatal illness, or good news on her breast cancer screening. It was when I told her that the weeks of genital itching, swelling and pain she had been suffering from was likely caused by using Always brand sanitary pads.

I hate to point fingers but I have to put the brand name out there.

I’ve known for years that Always pads can cause painful chafing and irritation to the point of blisters in “that area.” Besides my personal experience I’ve read recommendations from other women and from midwifery groups warning women about the risk of burning, painful vulvas from using Always pads.

I am not making this up. There is even one small research study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that showed women with vulva pain had less pain when they stopped using Always pads.

The woman I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post had recently given birth so had been wearing pads for several weeks. She sought medical attention for what everyone thought was a yeast infection but the medication didn’t make her vulva any less itchy and painful. She was treated for bacterial vaginosis the next time she went in. That didn’t help either.

What finally gave her some relief was using diaper rash ointment and switching to cloth pads. At this point she still wasn’t blaming the Always pads, she was just looking for something really soft and gentle that wouldn’t hurt her sore bottom.

Before I went to see this woman for the first time my nurse filled me in on enough of her history to make me suspect that she was using Always pads.

“I think I may know what’s been going on with you,” I said as I entered the exam room. “Are you using Always pads?”

That’s all it took for her to break down and sob. She told me she felt like everyone thought she was crazy since she kept returning for the same problem and nothing was making it any better.

My patient asked me to tell her story. I agreed it’s a message women need to know. And since then I’ve seen several other women with similar experiences who turned out to be using Always pads.

To be fair not all women are bothered by these pads. And it’s easy to see why women love them – they’re the thinnest pads on the market.

Please don’t ask me what they’re made of because I would probably make up some  inflammatory, smart alec answer that would get the Proctor and Gamble lawyers really excited. I really have no idea what it is about these pads that are hurting women.

Proctor and Gamble, the manufacturer of Always, claims premarket research showed their product was not to blame for the vulvar irritation found in menstruating women but that women are always a little irritated in the nether regions (that may not be the exact wording that they used).

As a midwife I recommend postpartum women use some other brand of feminine hygiene pads since these women can have bleeding up to six weeks or longer. A big fat Kotex like the ones your mother used as a girl might be just what the midwife ordered. Cloth pads are a great alternative if you don’t mind that they’re not disposable. Instructions for making cloth pads are all over Pinterest. Let me know how you like them.

There are multiple causes of genital itching. Women should see a health care professional if they are having abnormal vaginal itching, discharge, pain or odor. Always pads aren’t always the culprit.