Change Your Tampon: Toxic Shock is No Joke
If you get a period, you should be reading this.
I remember starting my period while I was in the 7th grade. It was on a Tuesday. My mom told me to change my underwear, handed me a pad, and that was that. I was only 12, so tampons were not on my radar. At some point within that first year of periods, I read some article in a magazine like Seventeen, ElleGirl (RIP), or CosmoGirl (RIP). It was about Toxic Shock Syndrome.
Toxic Shock Syndrome has always been vaguely on my radar, but after reading an article in Vice about a woman who got Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), I felt really convicted about sharing it with you all. Lauren Wasser was 24 (my age) when she fell ill and was rushed to the hospital with a fever of 107 degrees—ten minutes from death, they said. Her internal organs were shutting down and she’d suffered a massive heart attack. She was diagnosed with TSS, developed infection and gangrene and wound up having to have part of her right leg amputated due to the spreading infection After reading this and learning her story, I really encourage you all to read the article in it’s entirety.
Here are some facts and figures about Toxic Shock Syndrome. (I will list all sources at the end.)
History of TSS / What is TSS? / Who can get TSS? / How does TSS develop?
- Toxic Shock Syndrome got its name in 1978.
- There has been a link between TSS and tampon usage for decades, due largely to a spike in TSS-related deaths in the 1980s.
- A tampon alone is not enough to cause TSS—a person must already have the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus present in his or her body.
- It is not limited to only females. Only half of TSS cases occur in menstruating women. The other half in older women, men and children.
- About 20 percent of the general population carries the bacteria.
- It is a complication of bacterial infections often involving staph bacteria (or Staphylococcus aureus).
- Tampons and tampon-like objects have been used by women during their menstrual cycles for centuries.
- Over the past 50 or so years, tampon composition has changed from natural ingredients like cotton to synthetic ingredients like rayon and plastic, especially among the big tampon manufacturers—Playtex, Tampax, Kotex.
- These synthetic fibers, along with a tampon’s absorbency, can form an ideal environment for staph bacteria to flourish.
- The synthetic tampons provide optimal physical-chemical conditions necessary to cause the production of the TSST-1 toxin if the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria is part of the normal vaginal bacteria in a woman.
- TSS may result if a woman has no antibody to the toxin or low antibody. Therefore the synthetic ingredients of a tampon are a problem, whereas 100 percent cotton tampons provide the lowest risk, if any risk at all.
- Developing Toxic Shock Syndrome has been associated with:
- Having cuts or burns on your skin
- Having had recent surgery
- Using contraceptive sponges, diaphragms or superabsorbent tampons
- Having a viral infection, such as the flu or chickenpox
Synthetic Tampon Alternatives:
- Organic cotton tampons. Try Natracare or Seventh Generation.
- Synthetic Pads. Many people don’t like synthetic pads for a variety of reasons, but they do not hold risk for TSS. because they are not placed inside the vagina.
- Menstrual cups. The Diva Cup is probably the most well known and it is made of medical-grade silicone. The Keeper is a silicone free alternative. Both cups come in different sizes, so read up to make sure you’re choosing one that will fit you. (Note from Megan: I use the Soft Cup, which is a 12-hour disposable menstrual cup. I love it!)
- Cloth Pads. Joyful Living Naturals sells packs of reusable and washable cloth pads.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. We never recommend something we don’t personally believe in. Any profit from these links helps us keep this site up and running and the content free!