Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a serious and sometimes fatal medical condition caused by the rapid growth of bacteria in your body. Many studies have linked it to tampon use and a lack of sanitary hygiene. (1,2)
The infection occurs as a result of toxins produced when the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus enters your body through an opening in the skin. According to some experts, leaving a tampon on for too long can attract the same bacteria. The fibers in the tampon scratch your vagina and create an opening for the bacteria to enter your bloodstream.
Can Your Tampon Be Toxic?
Reports point out that your tampon may contain dioxins, synthetic fibers, petrochemical additives and plastic chemicals. Possible side effects of exposure to these can include disruption in embryonic development, cancer, multiple organ damage, bacterial and yeast infections in the vagina and heart disease.
Staphylococcus aureus is a common type of bacterium that lives on the skin and inside the nose. For TSS to occur, these bacteria must first over-grow and make large amounts of the TSS toxin, which enters the bloodstream. Tampons can increase the risk of TSS in two ways:
- Tampons, especially super-absorbent ones, that are left in the vagina for a long time.
- Tampons can stick to the vaginal walls, especially when blood flow is light, causing tiny abrasions when they are removed.
Signs & Symptoms
Symptoms of TSS occur suddenly. The average time before symptoms begin to show is two to three days after the infection. The common ones are:
- high fever (greater than 38.8°C)
- rapid drop in blood pressure (with lightheadedness or fainting)
- sunburn-like rash anywhere on the body
- vomiting or diarrhea
- severe muscle aches or weakness
- bright red coloring of the eyes, mouth, throat, and vagina
- headache, confusion, disorientation, or seizures
The condition requires immediate treatment. If you think you have it, get medical help as soon as possible. Call 911 or get to a hospital emergency right away. Your doctor will start the treatment by giving you antibiotics and intravenous fluids to kill the bacteria and stop toxins from being made. He would also check for any open wound to see if pus or blood needs to be drained from the wound to curb the infection.
Menstrual Hygiene Musts
Seek your doctor’s advice on what will be the best form of sanitary care for you and how you can minimize infections. Here are some tips you can follow:
1. Choose The Right Tampon: Go for one that has the lowest absorbency rate for your menstrual flow. Stick to the brand you are using and see if it keeps you comfortable and healthy. (Also read: Is Your Menstrual Flow Too Heavy?)
2. Change Your Tampon Every Two to Three Hours: All menstrual days are the not the same in terms of flow. Change a tampon every two to three hours during heavy flow days.
3. Stay Clean: Clean yourself properly while you are menstruating to remove any traces of blood from the skin around your vaginal area. In case washing is not possible, use a wet wipe.
4. Front To Back: Always remember to clean yourself from the front (vagina) to the back (anus). Washing from back to front can cause the bacteria from the anus to reach the vagina and result in infections.
5. Disposal: A used tampon can also cause infection, so dispose it properly. Wrap it in a separate disposable bag before throwing it in the bin. Wash your hands each time you come in contact with the tampon and use a hand sanitizer afterwards.
1. Chu VH. Staphylococcal toxic shock syndrome. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Dec. 24, 2013
2. Stevens DL. Epidemiology, clinical manifestations and diagnosis of streptococcal toxic shock syndrome. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Dec. 24, 2013.