TSS: Everything you need to know about toxic shock syndrome

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Everybody has heard of it before – Toxic Shock Syndrome, or TSS for short. And yes, some of us even know that the illness can be caused by the wearing of tampons. Yet very few women have an exact idea of what Toxic Shock Syndrome actually is – and how you can protect yourself from it. Now we have the most important facts. Month after month, women reach for tampons. At least all of those who have not chosen an alternative like the menstrual cup. The little pamphlet that comes with the tampons is ignored by most – it’s too long and difficult to read. To be honest, most people know how to insert a tampon. However, it’s these little pamphlets that warn you, first and foremost, about Toxic Shock Syndrome.

Two Types of Toxic Shock Syndrome

Before everybody panics and throws their tampons in the trash, the illness currently only affects around 3 in every 10,000 women. In other words, it is very rare. Besides, tampons are not to blame themselves because TSS can be menstruation-related or totally unrelated. The latter equally affects women, men and even children.

In both cases, TSS is mostly caused by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. A bacterium, that is almost everywhere in nature and is even on the skin and in the upper respiratory system. Normally it is harmless. However, one percent of this bacterium produces the toxin that causes TSS. Tampons facilitate the spread of the bacteria. In the event that the staphylococcus is present when the tampon is inserted and stays for an extended period in the vagina, the bacteria will multiply quickly. Young women experience TSS more often. Experts believe that this is often due to an underdeveloped immunity system.

However: staphylococcus can also enter the body through broken skin, burns, insect bites, bursitis or surgical wounds. Childbirth can also be the cause of TSS.

TSS: A serious illness

Although TSS occurs rarely, you should always take this illness seriously. If it’s not diagnosed and treated, TSS can be life-threatening. The typical symptoms of Toxic Shock Syndrome are similar to those associated with a flu.

An overview of the symptoms:

  • Fever (above the usual body temperature, eg. 39°C/102°F)
  • A drop in blood pressure (causing dizziness and fainting)
  • Extensive rashes
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle ache
  • Tachycardia
  • Sunburn-like reddening of the skin, especially on the palms and soles of the feet and the subsequent flaking
  • Reddened mucous membranes
  • Kidney and liver damage
  • In extreme cases, multiple organ failure is possible

How is TSS treated?

If symptoms appear, it is absolutely essential to consult a doctor. The timely administration of antibiotics can stop the illness from developing. However, immediate care and treatment in a clinic is necessary to avoid serious complications.

How is TSS prevented?

Pretty easily actually. It is advisable to change a tampon every four hours, to use the smallest size as necessary and to only use pads overnight. You should always wash your hands before changing a tampon and the packaging should always be completely intact. By the way, a menstruation cup can also cause TSS, as it is also inserted. The same rule applies: hygiene comes first


Photo by Josefin on Unsplash

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