TOXIC SHOCK SYNDROME

ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT TOXIC SHOCK SYNDROME. WHAT IT IS - AND HOW TO AVOID IT. 

 

You’ve likely heard some pretty frightening stories about Toxic Shock Syndrome(TSS) along with some stern warnings about changing your tampons regularly. But what actually is TSS and why do you need to know about it? 

The History of TSS

Toxic Shock Syndrome is a rare, but serious illness, which if left untreated can be potentially life-threatening.  Awareness surrounding Toxic Shock Syndrome heightened during the 1970s in response to a rapid spike in instances of reported cases. During this period, one particular tampon manufacturer developed a line of rayon, super-absorbent tampons that were able to hold an entire menstrual cycle without being changed – crazy, right?! 

Subsequent research shifted both the ingredients within common tampons and healthy habits surrounding tampon use - such as regularly changing tampons and using appropriate levels of absorbancy, which saw a steady decline in the reported cases of TSS. 



HOWEVER, IT IS ALWAYS BEST TO BE ARMED WITH THE INFORMATION AND HERE AT ILO WE CONSIDER IT OUR DUTY TO EQUIP YOU WITH KNOWLEDGE SO YOU CAN HAVE A GREATER UNDERSTANDING OF YOUR BODY! 

 

What Is TSS

The acute illness was originally connected to the use of tampons, however, in actuality, menstruating women are not the only ones who can experience the syndrome. TSS is a systemic illness, which means when you contract the illness, it implicates the entire body. Caused by two types of bacteria:  Staphylococcus aureus (which you may know as staph) and Streptococcus pyogenes (AKA strep). TSS is a toxaemia – which means toxins, caused by the bacteria, then circulate within the blood. 

While these bacteria commonly present in the body in the tissues of the nose, on the skin, and occasionally the vagina, most people will produce antibodies to the toxins, so there are no harmful effects. However if the body does not produce such antibodies, or there is a compromised immune system, these toxins can cause a reaction. It is this reaction that presents the symptoms acknowledged as TSS. 

The bacteria producing TSS needs a home to rapidly multiply and develop. For menstruating women,  a tampon saturated with blood that isn’t removed for too long, within the warm walls of the vagina is a homely place for rapid growth.  As the skin of the vagina is more permeable than other skin of our body, it is more vulnerable to the exposure of such toxins. Further, the risk of TSS can be increased through tampon use as sometimes traditional tampons can stick to the vaginal walls (especially when blood flow is light) causing tiny abrasions when they are removed. [https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/toxic-shock-syndrome-tss]

 

However, it is important to note it is not only menstruating women who can develop TSS. Of the reported cases, roughly half are related to non-menstrual conditions, such as following serious burns, boils, insect bites or infections post-surgery. 

Signs And Symptoms

As always, getting to know your body so you can recognise any major changes to your “normal” is crucial. As symptoms of TSS can come on quite suddenly (often within 2-3 days) the more understanding you have of your body, the quicker you may be able to establish that something just isn't quite right. If you do notice any of the symptoms, do not hesitate in seeking professional, medical advice from your doctor or gynaecologist. 

Some of the signs and symptoms of TSS can include: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/toxic-shock-syndrome-tss

  • fever

  • vomiting

  • diarrhoea

  • a skin rash that looks like sunburn

  • peeling patches of skin on the feet and hands

  • muscular aches

  • headaches

  • a sore throat

  • red eyes

  • confusion

  • a drop in blood pressure

  • joint pains

  • sensitivity to light

  • kidney failure

  • collapse.

  •  

What are the chances of TSS

Given the number of women worldwide who use tampons, TSS is a comparatively rare illness. With the incidence of cases estimated to be around 0.8 to 3.4 per 100,000 in the US [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459345/] and in the UK only around 20 cases associated with menstrual TSS in a population of 60 million women are reported each year. 

HOW TO PREVENT TSS

  • Choose organic tampons

  • Choose the lowest absorbency for your flow

  • Change your tampons regularly

  • Do not handle the tampon more than you need to

  • Maintain period hygiene: wash your hands thoroughly before and after inserting the tampon.

  • Be gentle when inserting and removing tampons. 

  • Do not wear tampons when you do not have your period.

  • Consider using pads overnight or if your period is light. 

  • Use a lubricant when inserting tampons on the final days of your period or if your period is very light. 


There are no clinical trials supporting the use of menstrual cups to reduce the risk of TSS. [https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/toxic-shock-syndrome-tss


What To Do If You Are Concerned About TSS

TSS is a medical emergency, if you notice any of the signs or symptoms, or just feel different from your normal, you should visit your doctor or gynaecologist immediately. 


Written by Rosie Hope

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