Is it Worth All the Worry? The Truth About Toxic Shock Syndrome

It’s still safe to use tampons.

If you’ve ever used a tampon you will have heard of the terrifyingly named toxic shock syndrome that every tampon brand’s packaging warns you about. We’ve all had that moment where we realise we left our tampon in for a little too long and momentarily panic, thinking we were about to lose our lives to TSS – but is this worry valid?

Firstly, what is toxic shock syndrome? It is a rare but extremely dangerous bacterial infection which is caused by bacteria invading your body’s bloodstream and releasing harmful toxins. While it has been most commonly found in women who use tampons, anyone can get it – and if it’s found early on it is fully treatable. Let’s debunk some other myths about the condition.

The most commonly believed myth about TSS is that it is caused by tampons. In truth, it is caused by particular types of bacteria when they are given the space to flourish and get into your bloodstream, where they wreak havoc on your tissue and organs. The reason it’s been linked to tampon use is not clear, but if a tampon is left in too long it creates a welcoming environment for these bacteria.

TSS is linked to tampons but less than half of the cases of toxic shock syndrome are because of tampon use, with the rest of the instances being from burns, skin infections and post-surgery complications. Tampons have a bad rep, but because it’s not the tampon itself that is the cause of the problem, anything inserted into your vagina for too long can cause it (including menstrual cups and diaphragms).

Reading about this syndrome every month, albeit briefly while you throw away the booklet (seriously, we don’t need that any more, thanks) that comes in your box of tampons, can make it seem like TSS is both very dangerous and very likely. Yes, it is really dangerous, but the likelihood of you getting it is very slim – about a 0,002% chance, in fact. Not only would you have to leave your tampon in for way too long, you would also have to be lacking the protein that protects you from this particular bacteria, plus you would need to have staphylococcus in your vaginal flora already too – it’s quite a rare combination.

We also tend to think that the symptoms will be vaginal, when in fact they aren’t at all. Symptoms of TSS include a really high fever, flu-like symptoms, a widespread red rash, dizziness and confusion, as well as struggling to breathe.

If you’ve tried to use a menstrual cup and still haven’t mastered that pinching motion in order to get it in, or you hate using pads because, well, they’re pads, don’t stress – you can still safely use tampons. To avoid any risk of getting toxic shock syndrome, just follows these guidelines:

– Change your tampon every four to eight hours, no matter what. Even if you know you’ve got a low-flow day and could leave it in for a little longer, it’s not worth the risk.

-Only buy the tampons that suit your flow. Don’t buy super-plus just because you know they will last you a little longer.

-If you sleep for more than eight hours a night (wow, must be nice), then use a pad at night.

-Always wash your hands before inserting a tampon, especially if you’re in a public toilet.

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