Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) is a rare complication originating from a bacterial (Staphylococcus Aureus and/or Streptococcal) infection. These bacteria can release toxins into the bloodstream causing damage to organs and body tissue.
Toxic Shock Syndrome commonly affects women during menstruation, but can be caused by any of the following:
- use of tampons
- cervical caps
- post-surgical wound infections.
There have been some cases of TSS even after infection with any body part like sinusitis, osteomyelitis and respiratory infections.
Symptoms of Toxic Shock Syndrome:
- Low blood pressure
- High fever
- Sore throat
- Muscle pain
- Flaking of hands and feet
Risk Factors of Toxic Shock Syndrome:
- Air containing foreign bodies (tampons, nasal packing)
- Recent surgery
- Localized infections
TSS became a huge health concern in the 1980’s with the introduction of new ingredients in tampons. Prior to this, tampons were made entirely of cotton. The new ingredients included a blend of highly absorbent polyester-cellulose, carboxymethyl cellulose, polyacrylate rayon and viscose rayon. All of these ingredients except for viscose rayon were taken off the market. Rayon is sourced from wood pulp. It was purified with chlorine gas, dioxins being an unwanted byproduct. Today’s tampons are made from a blend of bleached cotton and or synthetic products such as viscose rayon, and plastic. They also may contain many chemicals including pesticides used in growing cotton, chemicals used in the manufacture of viscose rayon and dyes.
The theory behind tampons and TSS is that the vagina is an oxygen-free environment which limits the growth of "harmful" bacteria. Air is trapped between the fibres that make up tampons. So once this air is interested in the vagina, the bacteria can multiply increasing the possibility of toxin production. As well, after removing the tampon some of the fibres may remain. These fibres can scratch the vagina. The abrasion causes dryness that can irritate the mucosa, making it easier for the bacteria to enter.
Top 7 Ways To Prevent TSS?
- Use all organic cotton tampons
- Wash hands before inserting using antibacterial hand soap
- Use lower absorbency tampons. This one is super important! “Superabsorbent tampons” stay inside the longest and become breeding grounds for bacteria
- Avoid leaving the tampon in for extended periods of time
- Insert a fresh tampon before bed and change it in the morning
- Be cautious of fragrances in tampons that can irritate the skin
- Try tampon alternatives like cotton pads, or mensural cups
What Are Alternatives For Traditional Tampons?
- Natracare cotton tampons – 100% cotton, chemical, fragrance and chlorine free
- Seventh Generation Organic cotton Tampon - Fragrance and chlorine free
- Diva Cup or Aisle Cup
If you experience any of the aforementioned symptoms and have used a tampon at the same time be sure to rule out TSS! Make sure to read the ingredient list of your personal hygiene products to ensure they do not contain any unnecessary chemicals.
Written by: Dr. Saira Kassam, ND | 2017