From time to time, we hear horror stories about women leaving tampons in for too long, contracting toxic shock syndrome (TSS), and getting severely ill or dying. And, just like hearing a story about a plane crash, the likelihood of it happening to us feels like a definite possibility. There are so many rumors and misconceptions about TSS that we wanted to clear the air by providing the truth about toxic shock syndrome and what you can do to prevent it.
What is toxic shock syndrome (TSS)?
Toxic shock syndrome is a rare but potentially fatal bacterial infection. It results from an infection produced by Staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria and by group A streptococcus (strep) bacteria.
How do you get it?
Tampons themselves are not the cause of toxic shock syndrome, but experts believe that they can give the bacteria an environment to grow quickly and produce toxins. If those toxins are released into your bloodstream, there can be severe consequences such as organ failure and shock. When you are using tampons, be sure to follow the eight-hour rule for changing and avoid using superabsorbent tampons (the more material, the more room for bacteria to grow).
Toxic shock syndrome can be contracted in a variety of other ways such as surgical incisions, burns, cuts, skin infections, and any device that you insert into the vagina including menstrual cups, contraceptive sponges and diaphragms.
Will I contract it automatically if I leave my tampon in for too long?
You should always take your health seriously but don’t panic if you happen to leave your tampon in for longer than 8 hours. If it’s been 12 to 24 hours and you feel normal, just remove it and go on with your life. If it’s been longer or you are unable to take it out, you should take a trip to your OBGYN to get it removed.
What are the symptoms?
Possible symptoms of toxic shock syndrome include sudden high fever, low blood pressure, a rash that looks like a sunburn on your palms and soles, muscle aches, seizures, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, feeling faint or dizzy, and redness of mouth, throat, and eyes. If you have signs or symptoms of toxic shock syndrome, you should see your doctor immediately.
Is it common?
It is actually very rare, in fact, with only 1-2 out of every 100,000 women contracting it.
Does it only affect menstruating women?
Although around half the cases of TSS occur in menstruating women, toxic shock syndrome can affect children, men, and postmenopausal women as well.
Should I give up tampons altogether?
No, when used correctly tampons are perfectly safe. However, it is important to take precautions such as switching your tampon every 4-8 hours, washing your hands before insertion and removal, and avoiding superabsorbent tampons.