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What Is Toxic Shock Syndrome? (And How To Prevent It)

What Is Toxic Shock Syndrome? (And How To Prevent It)

We all remember that awkward time of life when we first started our periods (and wasn’t it always at the most inconvenient time?). One thing many of us learned at a young age was to watch out for TSS, or Toxic Shock Syndrome. This very rare but serious illness is associated with tampon use—but how much talk about TSS is for real, and how much is hype?

When it comes to tampon use, only around 1 in 100,000 womxn are diagnosed each year with TSS, so your odds are very low, especially once you understand how to prevent it. So how do you get Toxic Shock Syndrome, and what should all RBL babes know about TSS?

Of course, we’re not doctors ourselves, so your family doctor or health clinic is always the best place to get answers to any questions about your health. But keep reading to find our basic guide to this mysterious and kinda confusing illness.

Just so we’re clear… What is Toxic Shock Syndrome?

TSS is an illness caused by bacterial infections in the body, specifically a nasty one known as Staphylococcus aureus, or staph. The bacteria release toxins into the body, which then tries to fight them off; this can lead to a massive drop in blood pressure and oxygen depletion.

This syndrome can come on suddenly and, in rare cases, can lead to death, so it’s a seriously concerning disease. If you ever have urgent concerns about your bod and are worried about TSS, call 911 or your doc right away.

TSS can be diagnosed by a number of tests, including bloodwork and a cervical swab. To treat it, patients receive antibiotics and will usually be admitted to the hospital, as it can require round-the-clock care and treatment.

Is it true that you can get TSS from tampons?

What is the most common cause of toxic shock syndrome? As you might have guessed, it’s tampons. While it’s true that TSS can be caused by tampon use, it can also be caused by menstrual sponges and diaphragms.

However, keep in mind that TSS gained notoriety in the 70s and 80s when there were a few cases linked to a certain type of high-absorbency tampon. This product has long been gone from store shelves. Tampons today are made from different materials and are much safer to use.

As long as you follow the guidelines on the package, tampons are extremely low-risk. For many active babes, they provide a convenient and safe way to enjoy life during your time of the month—you don’t need to be afraid of them! (If you feel nervous using tampons, getting to know your body can help you feel more comfortable down below.)


Image by Polina Zimmerman on Pexels: If used correctly, tampons are a safe and effective way of managing your flow.


How do I know if I have TSS?

It’s important to know the most common signs and symptoms of TSS. However, let us stress again that TSS is crazy rare, so if you have any of the below symptoms, they could also be related to other health conditions. Either way, if something’s not feeling right for you, always call your doctor.

If you’re menstruating and using tampons, always remove the tampon right away if you notice any of these symptoms:

  • Low blood pressure or dizziness
  • Fever
  • Severe headaches
  • Confusion
  • Vomiting
  • A red rash on your skin that mimics a sunburn

How can I prevent TSS?

How do I make sure I don't get TSS? This syndrome can be frightening, but the best way to avoid it is simply to follow the guidelines for tampons or birth control products as instructed. A few other ways to keep your body healthier and avoid disease include always washing your hands before and after inserting a tampon, using the tampon right after unwrapping it, and changing tampons every four to six hours.

It’s actually not uncommon to forget you have a tampon in, so if you’re worried about forgetting, it never hurts to set an alarm on your phone as a discreet reminder. How long does it take to get toxic shock syndrome from a tampon? It all depends on your body, but try to make it a point not to leave a tampon in more than eight hours. TSS symptoms won’t necessarily show up right away, as they can take one to three days before you start to notice.

Finally, try to use the lightest possible tampon—no need to use super absorbent products on days when your flow is light.


Image by Gustavo Fring on Pexels: Always have a chat with your friendly doc right away if you have any concerns about TSS.


Don’t believe the hype: a few TSS myths

With so much info out there in the world, it helps to clarify a few points about TSS.

First, remember that TSS is definitely not a “female” disease. It’s a bacterial illness, not a complication of your menstrual cycle. In addition to tampons, TSS has also been caused by infections, surgical complications, and even burns—it can affect men and womxn.

Also, TSS is not contagious. So, if your partner has it, it’s not going to spread to you through sexual contact or touch.

Lastly, keep in mind that accidentally leaving a tampon in for too long doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get TSS! In most cases, if you accidentally leave a tampon in for too long, it’s only going to cause an odor and maybe a vaginal discharge.

If you have any other questions or concerns about TSS, your reproductive or sexual health, or just general issues about your body, it’s best to get medical advice. It’s totally normal to feel a bit funny talking to your doctor about personal issues like periods, but remember they’re professionals and won’t be weirded out at all by anything you tell them.

We’re all about body positivity here at RBL, so take your health into your own hands and always be proactive if something doesn’t seem right.


Featured image by Imani Bahati on Unsplash