3 Myths About Toxic Shock Syndrome Busted

3 Myths About Toxic Shock Syndrome Busted

Imagine reading this as a young girl, new to the period world:

There is risk of TSS to all women using tampons during their menstrual period. TSS is a rare but serious disease that may cause death.

If you’re anything like I was, you’d be swearing off tampons forever. As if period symptoms weren’t hard enough, now we have to deal with dying because of tampon use? No, thank you!


TSS is real. But there’s a lot of unhelpful info out there about it. Let’s break down some common misconceptions surrounding TSS so you can stop worrying and start knowing.


Toxic Shock Syndrome Defined
The Mayo Clinic defines toxic shock syndrome as “a rare, life-threatening complication of certain types of bacterial infections.” More specifically, TSS is caused by toxins released from a build-up of the Staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria or group A streptococcus (strep) bacteria. These bacteria can actually be found in the vagina already and are harmless. The problem comes when they grow rapidly and release toxins into the bloodstream.


So, how did tampons get such a bad rap? Are they responsible for this bacterial growth?


Myth #1 – Tampons Aren’t Safe
You can put your mind at ease now because tampons are safe. Using them incorrectly may not be. Here’s what the experts at the CDC has to say:


  • Leaving your tampon in too long can cause bacteria to grow rapidly
  • Using tampons made only of polyester foam can support growth of bacteria
  • Super absorbent tampons may dry out the vagina, causing small tears in the vaginal wall


Still scared of tampons? While the list above sounds alarming, following these simple steps will help you avoid TSS:


  • Change your tampon regularly, multiple times a day
  • Consider wearing pads or other products at night or when you won’t be able to change your tampon for more than 8 hours
  • Choose tampons made of mixed materials, including cotton and/or rayon
  • Don’t use a bigger tampon than you need for your flow


Myth #2 – Only Women Get TSS
We’ve been led to believe that TSS is a tampon-related problem. So naturally that means it’s a woman’s problem. But this isn’t actually the case. The Johns Hopkins Health System shares that an open wound, recent burn, skin infection, or surgery are also risk factors for TSS. Anyone can have these conditions. And while TSS does affect menstruating women, “only 1 or 2 out of every 100,000 women get TSS.” “The staph bacteria can cause an infection when it gets into parts of the body where it’s not normally found and multiplies,” says Gillian Dean, senior director of medical services at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. So basically, TSS is a condition that can affect anyone.


Myth #3 – No Vagina Pain, No Problem
So if toxic shock syndrome can happen to anyone, how will I know if it’s happening to me? Since we’ve long believed that TSS is a period problem, we may be tempted to think that we need to only pay attention to where the tampons stay – our vaginas. But this is the last place the symptoms will come from. If you notice any of the following symptoms while using a tampon, take it out and contact your doctor:


  • Sudden, high fever
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • A rash resembling a sunburn, particularly on your palms and soles
  • Confusion
  • Muscle aches
  • Redness of your eyes, mouth and throat
  • Seizures
  • Headaches


You may notice that some of these symptoms sound a lot like period symptoms. No need to freak out if you have a headache or muscle aches. But pay attention to these symptoms, especially if they’re accompanied by a high fever or rash – these are strong indicators of TSS.

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