TSS Awareness – What you need to know!
Some of us women may have heard of TSS from our parents, friends or on the news; but not all women are aware of what TSS is and why they should be clued up on what it is and how to avoid getting it.
What is TSS?
Definition time.. TSS is short for Toxic Shock Syndrome; which is a sudden and potentially fatal condition. TSS is caused by the release of toxic substances from an overgrowth of bacteria (Staph. Aureus), which can be found on individual’s skin, hair, nose and throat. Despite what people may think, it is actually common on the human body and is part of the bodies normal flora. Around 20-30% of humans are long-term carriers of S.aureus. The problem with S.aureus is that when it gets out of hand, it can result in serious problems that need addressing quick-fast.
Possible signs and symptoms include:
- Sudden high fever
- Low blood pressure (hypotension)
- Vomiting and diarrhoea
- Rash like a sunburn, particularly on the palms and soles
- Muscle aches
- Redness of the eyes, mouth and throat
Seek help from your doctor immediately if you have these symptoms, especially if you have recently used tampons or you have a skin/wound infection (and tell them this). TSS is considered rare but it is important you realise it could happen to you. No one thinks it will happen to them.
TSS risk factors
Most of us ladies who are aware of the existence of TSS will understand that a risk factor is leaving your tampon in too long. What they might not know is that contrary to what people might think, TSS doesn’t always result from using a tampon. Men can get it and it can result anywhere on the body where the conditions are hospitable for S.aureus growth:
- Medium for growth – such as the accumulation of blood on the tampon.
- Higher pH Levels – tampons increase the pH of the vagina during menstruation, making it easier for the S.aureus to grow (from around 4.2 to 7.4)
- Existence of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the vagina during menstruation – S.aureus can survive with and without oxygen, so conditions are optimum for it to multiply.
- It is also considered that placing the tampon too high up, allowing the tampon to fully fill before taking out, leaving it in ‘too long’ and mucosal irritation within the vagina are probable contributing factors.
The reason getting TSS is so serious is because most S.aureus strains are resistant to many antibiotics and if left untreated patients can quickly die after presenting symptoms and loss of limbs is not uncommon after getting TSS.
Shocking TSS Case
If your one of those ‘I won’t believe it until I see it’ people, here is an example of a model who actually had her leg amputated in an attempt to save her life after getting TSS from using a tampon, and still may need to have her other leg amputated:
To clarify, it is not specifically tampons that cause TSS, but the presence of S.aureus whilst using them or other menstrual products (i.e menstrual cups) that perpetuate the risk.
Some say that it is the synthetic materials of the tampon that make women more at risk of getting TSS and the fact that they are typically bleached and do not need to state what chemicals they have used to make it.
It is believed by some women that using organic cotton tampons can lessen the risk further as organic means there’s basically no crap and nothing bad for your body going into the making of the tampon. In addition, without all those chemicals it is less likely that the vagina will be irritated and less chance of tears and issues that can help S.auerus to grow.
It seems that using low absorbency tampons or changing your tampons frequently (before they get completely saturated with blood) may reduce the risk of TSS.
After watching the video above, I feel very lucky to have not had TSS. When in my teens, I opted for tampons after feeling that sanitary pads felt like ‘wearing a nappy’. I have to admit that I was indeed very lazy and also tried to get the most out of the tampons that I did use.. I have never liked waste. I wasn’t particularly religious when it came to the maximum number of hours to leave the tampon in for, as stipulated on the tampon guide. This led me to keep tampons in much longer than I should have. At college, sometimes I felt I had no choice but to leave it in for longer when I looked into my bag to find I had ran out, but still had a heavy flow that tissue paper alone couldn’t handle. I know I am not alone in that respect. I felt so grown up to be wearing a tampon as during that time not everyone ‘had the guts’ to do it or had grasped the technique to keep it in comfortably.
I actually decided a few years ago that I didn’t want to wear tampons anymore. It suddenly seemed unnatural to be putting an object in my vagina for the purpose of collecting blood. So my reasons for stopping using tampons was not due to being scared of the TSS risk. It’s funny as I have recently bought a menstrual cup (it’s on its way to me) and although it too has a (low) risk of TSS, it doesn’t put me off trying to use it. I am also drawn to the economic benefit of investing in a menstrual cup.. as they can last years and that means no more buying sanitary products every month (it all adds up!) and all the waste that comes with their use (lots of single use plastics in the packaging that is bad for the environment).
If you use tampons or menstrual cups, you may want to consider the points raised in this blog post to reduce your TSS risk. Although, bare in mind that even if you don’t use these menstrual products you can still get TSS AND even if you try to lower your risk you could still get TSS. I think the main thing is that you know the signs TSS, so that if you do get symptoms you can get yourself to the hospital straight away and try to address the infection before your situation gets even worse. I hope that by writing this I have helped to raise awareness of TSS. Please pass on this information to your female friends to make this common knowledge and help reduce the number of women dying and suffering from TSS.
Do your research..
Please do not rely on what I say or anyone else says. You have a responsibility to yourself to make sure you know what you are putting in your body.. so research left, right and centre.
Take a look for yourself at the research that has been conducted (I have used a lot of their findings in this post):
Did you learn something new about TSS from reading this post? Do you know of anyone affected by TSS? Were you taught about TSS in school? Let me know in the comments below.