Improvisation is a critical skill for any preparedness-minded individual. While our stockpiled gear should help us deal with various emergencies, it's rare that you'll encounter a situation where you'll have every single resource you need. For example, the water purifier bottle in your pack is great for personal use, but knowing how to purify water with bleach can help you process larger quantities. On the other hand, there are times when improvisation isn't viable — despite what you may have seen on Gilligan's Island reruns, you can't make a fully-functional radio out of coconuts and bamboo.

You may have heard the assertion that shoving a tampon into a gunshot wound is just as good as applying hemostatic gauze and a pressure dressing. After all, tampons are made to stop blood flow, right? Many internet commenters claim to know a guy who knows a guy who has saved lives using tourniquets in a combat zone. However, the actual validity of these claims is often debatable.

Joe Alton, M.D., co-founded Doom and Bloom Medical along with his wife Amy Alton, ARNP (Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner). The couple has written extensively on the topic of survival medicine, including The Survival Medicine Handbook, which we reviewed in Issue 32. Joe is a retired but actively-licensed OB/GYN and Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, so he is familiar with feminine products and bleeding control. He recently wrote a blog article titled “The Tactical Tampon?” that directly addresses the topic of using tampons for trauma care.

Doom and Bloom included this visual comparison of a tampon to traditional gauze and a pressure dressing.

Here are some excerpts:

“Tampons are meant to deal with menstrual bleeding, a type of bleeding that isn’t under much pressure, unlike the blood that’s coming out of a ruptured artery… How much blood are you absorbing with the tampon? Light tampons, about 6 grams, super duper absorbency, about 15 or so. That’s not so much, especially if there’s arterial bleeding. The rest has to go somewhere.”

“Plugging a hole, even one that looks like it could fit a tampon, doesn’t stop the bleeding inside. It just pools internally or maybe finds an exit wound, but the tampon is just concealing the bleeding, not stopping it. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.”

“If you’re a combat medic who used a tampon on a bleeding casualty and the surgical team didn’t find a lot of blood internally somewhere, well, good job. I’ll bet, however, the actual verifications are few and far-between.”

For more of Dr. Alton's thoughts on the “tactical tampon,” both as a wound packing material and an external dressing, we encourage you to read the full blog article here: You can also read Amy Alton's take on the issue in her blog article.

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