What Is Toxic Shock Syndrome &Can You Get It From A Tampon?

Can your teen get toxic shock syndrome (TSS) from pads? We bust some of the common myths surrounding toxic shock syndrome and menstrual products.

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

Toxic shock syndrome definition: what is TSS?

If you're a menstruator, TSS is something that many of us have known about since we first started our period, and if you're anything like us, it's also caused you a lot of anxiety since then.

Toxic Shock Syndrome (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, causing them to produce toxins. If these toxins get into the bloodstream, they can cause TSS.

Toxic shock syndrome symptoms & signs

How can you tell if someone has toxic shock syndrome? Here are some of the early signs and symptoms of TSS:

  • Vomiting, dizziness and muscle aches

  • Low blood pressure

  • Distinctive skin rash



    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. While all of this sounds scary, there are ways to prevent TSS, as well as known treatments for the syndrome.

    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?

    True or false? Tampon use causes toxic shock syndrome? False.

    It's the staphylococcus aureus bacteria that causes TSS—not tampons or pads. Unfortunately, a tampon that is left in for too long can create an unwanted breeding ground for bacteria that could produce the toxins that cause TSS.

    While this is something you should be aware of when introducing your child to menstrual products, you shouldn’t be afraid to allow them to use them. It’s safest to always follow tampon guidelines and change tampons regularly so that they can feel fresh and healthy during their period. (And don’t forget that they can always lean on their trusty Kt by Knix underwear and period kits during your period).

    Extra Reading: Here's our guide on how to put in a tampon, if you need a good way to explain it to your tween.

    Image via Instagram (@yoni.care)

    TSS and menstrual cups or pads

    When it comes to pads, there is generally nothing to worry about in terms of getting TSS. Normal usage, such as changing a pad every few hours or when its full, would not normally expose someone to TSS.

    While there have been some recent reports of menstrual cups causing TSS, toxic shock syndrome is not normally caused by the use of cups or disks. As long as the user washes their cup regularly and properly uses it, TSS shouldn't be a worry.

    Further reading: Does caffeine help period cramps?

    Is TSS dangerous?

    Toxic shock syndrome is extremely rare. Only one or two out of every 100,000 women are diagnosed with TSS, meaning there is only about a 0.002% chance it could happen to your child. Following the instructions of period products carefully and practicing personal hygiene are the best ways to prevent TSS from tampon use.

    So, yes, while TSS is scary, there's no reason you should let that stop you from letting your teen us menstrual products such as tampons, pads or cups. Education is the most important thing when it comes to TSS and other infections.

    If you, your teen, or someone you know is experiencing the symptoms of toxic shock syndrome, it's important to contact a healthcare provider and/or visit the emergency room as soon as possible.

    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 with a quick true or false. After all, there are a lot of myths about toxic shock syndrome out there.

    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

    FALSE! While TSS is commonly linked to menstruation and tampons, it can also be linked to burns, skin infections and surgical incisions. Around half of TSS cases occur in menstruating women; the other half can affect children, men and everyone else.

    Image via Instagram (@leabrisell)

    If your child leaves a tampon in too long, they'll definitely get TSS

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

    There are a few precautions your teen can take to give themselves some peace of mind:

    1. If you know they'll be planning on leaving a tampon in for more than 8 hours, consider switching to a pad or period underwear (ie. when they sleep).

    2. Use the lowest absorbency tampon they can. If they know their menstrual flow is usually lighter, use a regular tampon, not a super absorbent tampon.

    3. Wash their hands before they insert a tampon, to prevent any unwanted bacteria from hanging around their vaginal walls!

    If they get TSS, it’s always really serious

    FALSE! 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.

    Toxic shock syndrome is not fatal in most cases. Only about 4-5% of TSS cases end in a fatality.

    How to prevent TSS with good menstrual health

    You might be feeling scared to ever let your child wear a tampon again after reading this, but please don’t be.

    Understanding the facts about TSS should help you feel empowered and less stressed. It also should inspire you to be on top of your child's menstrual health.

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