What Is Toxic Shock Syndrome & Can I Get It From My Tampon?

Is TSS something you should be worrying about? We bust some of the common myths surrounding TSS and tampons.

You may have heard people talking about TSS and the dangers of tampons before, but is it really something you should be worrying about? We’re going to break it down for you and bust some of the common myths.

Toxic shock syndrome definition: what is TSS?

Let’s talk about Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). TSS is caused by certain types of Staphylococcus bacteria, particularly Staphylococcus aureus, or Streptococcus pyogenes. This bacteria is not uncommon - about 20-30% of all humans carry this bacteria on their skin, or inside their nose or throat.

These bacteria generally remain completely harmless, but can become dangerous when they are in an environment that allows them to grow quickly, which causes them to produce toxins. If these toxins get into the bloodstream, it can cause TSS.

Toxic shock syndrome symptoms & signs

How can you tell if you have toxic shock syndrome?

  • Early TSS symptoms start with vomiting, dizziness, and muscle aches.
  • You can also get a distinctive rash from the infection.  
  • After the initial onset, TSS can then progress to fainting and seizures, and can ultimately lead to kidney failure and death within 48 hours if left untreated.

TSS treatments

The treatment of TSS depends on the individual patient, but usually it involves intravenous antibiotics and fluids to fight off the infection. If it’s more serious and has led to sepsis, intensive care and dialysis may be needed. It’s important to treat TSS quickly.

Do tampons actually cause TSS?

You may have heard that tampons cause TSS but that’s not true. It’s the staph bacteria that causes TSS, but unfortunately a tampon that’s left in for too long can create the unwanted breeding ground for bacteria that could produce the toxins that cause TSS.

While this is something you should be aware of, you shouldn’t be afraid to use tampons. It’s safest to always follow tampon guidelines and not leave them in for too long so that you can feel fresh and healthy during your period. (And don’t forget that you can always lean on your trusty Knixteens during your period).

Image via Instagram (@yoni.care)

TSS and menstrual cups

There have been some recent reports that menstrual cups may actually be worse for TSS than tampons. There doesn’t seem to be much evidence that this is actually the case, so TSS is probably nothing to worry about there. The same goes for period pads — normal usage would not normally expose you to TSS.

Is TSS dangerous?

You shouldn’t worry TSS is extremely rare - only 1 or 2 out of every 100,000 women are diagnosed with TSS, meaning there’s only about a 0.002% chance it could happen to you. So yes, while it’s scary it’s very, very rare that it will happen, especially if you’re changing your tampon or menstrual cup regularly.

Common TSS and tampon use myths — busted!

Now that we’ve gone over what TSS is, let’s dive into a few myths surrounding it, because there’s a lot of them out there.

TSS is only linked to tampons, and only happens to women

Wrong-o! While TSS is commonly linked to menstruation and tampons, it can also be linked to burns, skin infections and surgical incisions. While around half of TSS cases occur in menstruating women, the other half affects children, men and post-menopausal women.

If you leave a tampon in too long, you’ll definitely get TSS

FALSE! Yes, leaving a tampon in too long is linked to TSS but I’ll say it again - TSS is very rare. It’s recommended that you change a tampon every 4-8 hours, but things happen, and sometimes your tampon ends up left in there more than 8 hours. If this happens every once and a while, you’ll most likely be fine. Just make sure you do your best to stay on top of changing your tampon!

There are a few precautions you can take to give you some piece of mind:

  1. If you know you’re planning on leaving a tampon in for more than 8 hours, consider switching to a pad (ie. when you sleep).
  2. Use the lowest absorbency tampon you can. If you know your flow is usually lighter, use a regular tampon, not a super.
  3. Wash your hands before you insert a tampon, to prevent any unwanted bacteria from hanging around your lady parts!

Image via Instagram (@leabrisell)

If you get TSS, it’s always really serious

No, no, NO! If you Google TSS, you’ll most likely come across model Lauren Wasser’s story. Wasser got TSS and her TSS caused an infection that turned into gangrene, a dead tissue condition that may cause someone to have a limb amputated as a last resort. Once again, this! Is! Very! Rare! On top of the fact that TSS is super rare, Wasser’s complication was a very rare occurrence. It’s also not fatal in most cases - only about 4-5% of cases of TSS end in a fatality, which is slim to none.

How to prevent TSS with good menstrual health

You might be feeling scared to ever wear a tampon again after reading this, but please don’t be. For the last time, I will repeat that TSS is rare.

However, it’s important to know about because it encourages you to be on top of your menstrual health, because you need to treat your body right! It’s also a good idea to be the boss of your period health so that you can avoid things like UTIs (urinary tract infections) and yeast infections. Listen to your body and ask for medical advice if you need it.

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