Photo by Erol Ahmed on Unsplash
If you’re anything like me the mention of Toxic Shock Syndrome (or TSS) is absolutely terrifying.
You probably heard about it in sex ed or from your mum when you decided to start using tampons, either way the description probably went something along the lines of, ‘if you leave your tampon in for too long you will get TSS, and die’.
Not to downplay the severity of TSS at all, without immediate medical treatment it can be life threatening.
However, TSS is extremely rare, there is only about 40 cases in the UK per year, of which in only 2-3 cases will it prove fatal.
TSS also isn’t exclusively linked to tampon use, it is a complication of a bacterial infection and the bacteria can enter through broken skin from any number of causes such as rashes, cuts or burns (again, TSS is still very rare in any case)
In fact, only about 50% of cases are linked to tampon use.
The reason that we hear the association of TSS to tampons so often is because of the environment using a tampon provides for the bacteria.
The vagina alone is a super absorbent and tampons, especially super-absorbent ones, provide the perfect environment for bacteria to grow.
So what is TSS?
- It’s an illness that affects the whole body (a systemic illness)
- It’s caused by two bacteria:
Staphylococcus aureus – more commonly known as ‘staph’ (most cases relate to this bacteria)
Streptococcus pyogenes – more commonly known as ‘strep’
- These bacteria can produce toxins and if the the body can’t fight those toxins it produces an immune system reaction: Toxic Shock Syndrome
- a sudden high fever
- a sunburn-like rash
- fainting or feeling faint
- muscle aches
In terms of treatment, the first step is to remove your tampon. Then see a doctor immediately, early diagnosed TSS can be treated with antibiotics and other medications and treatments for symptoms.
It’s important to note that TSS is not infectious, therefore it doesn’t spread.
People who have had TSS are also at increased risk of a second episode.
The most important thing to remember is that TSS is very rare and as far as associating it with menstruation and tampon use, as long as you’re changing your tampon every 4 hours (and therefore not sleeping with one in) you should be fine.
There are cases of girls forgetting about their tampon and leaving it in for days at a time, distracted by stress so if that sounds like something you could do maybe avoid tampons during high stress times.
If you’re worried about tampon use in general, maybe stick to pads (or other like products) or menstrual cups.
Cups don’t void all risk to TSS, but do give you extra time before you need to change your period products.
All in all, it’s important to remember that while TSS is a very serious illness, it is also very rare.
But if you think you have TSS, if you’re showing symptoms, go to a doctor and have it ruled out, because if you do have TSS the longer left untreated, the more dangerous it is.