September 24, 2021

Use Tampons? Here’s What You Need to Know About Toxic Shock Syndrome

If you use tampons every month, you likely have heard about TSS. But what exactly is it? How do you know you’re at risk of developing Toxic Shock Syndrome? Our West Kendall OB/GYN team has various recommendations for prevention.

What is TSS?

Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a rare—but life-threatening—complication of certain types of bacterial infections. Commonly, TSS results from toxins produced by Staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria, but the condition may also be caused by toxins produced by group A streptococcus (strep) bacteria.

While toxic shock syndrome is most often made aware to menstruating women because of tampon usage, TSS can actually affect anyone, including men, children and postmenopausal women. This is because tampons aren’t the only risk factors for toxic shock syndrome. Other risk factors include skin wounds, surgery, and the use of other devices, such as menstrual cups, contraceptive sponges or diaphragms.

While TSS can affect anyone, about half of the cases of toxic shock syndrome associated with staphylococci bacteria occur in women of menstruating age; the rest occur in older women, men and children. Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome occurs in people of all ages, so it’s important to look out for the signs and symptoms, including:

  • A sudden high fever
  • Low blood pressure
  • 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

Symptoms of TSS often come on suddenly and are intense. Therefore, if you’ve had any of these things recently, you may be at increased risk of developing toxic shock syndrome:

  • Having cuts or burns on your skin
  • Having had recent surgery
  • Using contraceptive sponges, diaphragms, “superabsorbent tampons or menstrual cups
  • Having a viral infection, such as the flu or chickenpox

Tampons aren’t the only cause of toxic shock syndrome, but tampon users should still be aware of the underlying causes and symptoms of TSS.

Toxic Shock Syndrome Treatment

TSS is deadly if left untreated, so seek treatment immediately if you experience the symptoms we mentioned, especially if you’re at increased risk. As for the toxic shock syndrome treatment itself, you will likely need to be hospitalized. Then, you’ll be treated with antibiotics while doctors seek the infection source. 

If your blood pressure drops, you’ll receive medications for stabilization, as well as plenty of fluids to treat dehydration. If your TSS is more severe, the toxins produced by the staph or strep bacteria and accompanying hypotension may result in kidney failure. If your kidneys fail, you may need dialysis. You may also need surgery to remove nonliving tissue from the site of infection or to drain the infection.


How to Prevent TSS

While these symptoms and complications are serious and you should take them seriously, it doesn’t mean you can’t use tampons ever again. TSS is incredibly rare and has become even more rare over the past couple decades. Kristen Domonell from Right as Rain by UW Medicine puts it this way:

“At its peak in 1980, there were approximately six cases of TSS per 100,000 women ages 19 to 44. That number has gone down significantly, likely due to changes in tampon material and absorbency, stricter warning label guidelines, and increased awareness, according to the CDC. Now, the rate of toxic shock syndrome is closer to one case per 100,000 women ages 19 to 44.” 

Prevent toxic shock syndrome by reading labels carefully and using the lowest absorbency tampon you can if you’re using tampons. You should also change tampons frequently, at least every four to eight hours. Alternate using tampons and sanitary napkins (AKA pads), and use minipads when your flow is light. We don’t recommend sleeping in tampons overnight. Opt for nighttime pads instead.

However, if you’ve had TSS before, you can certainly have it again. If you’ve had toxic shock syndrome or a prior serious staph or strep infection, don’t use tampons.

Women’s Care Florida | West Kendall OB/GYN

Our friendly and knowledgeable women’s care Florida staff at our office is happy to answer any of your questions about toxic shock syndrome treatment and assist you in preventing it. Give us a call today or schedule an appointment with our West Kendall OB/GYN right here on our website!

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