As reported by People magazine, a 16-year-old girl in British Columbia died of toxic shock syndrome related to her tampon use. It’s a grim reminder that tampons aren’t as safe as many women tend to believe.
For women, being happy with our sanitary products is one of the most precious keys to our health and well-being. After all, they’re something that gets the closest to our most intimate body parts – which is why they should be as safe as possible for our whole body system.
Among the wide range of sanitary products, tampons are the ones that have been proven to cause toxic shock syndrome.
This syndrome can affect people of all ages: women, men, and children, and its possible sources of infection include the vagina, nose, recent surgery, childbirth or any skin wound.
It is caused by a bacterial infection happening when the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus gets into the bloodstream and produces toxins. As these toxins are released into the bloodstream, they begin to overstimulate the immune system in the body.
Proven By Gynecologists
Actually, toxic shock syndrome, first found in children in 1978, did not become familiar until an epidemic in 1981, when it was linked to superabsorbent tampon use in menstruating women.
We know the syndrome is extremely rare — in 2016 there were just 40 reported cases in the United States, about half of which were not related to menstruating women. However, as health experts note, any case of toxic shock syndrome is a medical emergency. It can affect most organ systems in the body, including the skin, lungs, liver, kidneys, blood, and pancreas.
While most people have antibodies to protect them from the toxins created by a bacterial infection, not everyone does. Their bodies go into “shock” when the infection prevents blood from circulating properly, impeding organ and tissue function.
According to doctors, many people with toxic shock syndrome experience a two- to three-day period of mild symptoms before they develop the disease: low-grade fever, muscle aches, chills, and malaise (a feeling of general discomfort, uneasiness, or ill health). Don’t they actually resemble flu?
Early symptoms can also be confused with those of other diseases, like norovirus or other viral and bacterial infections, especially in young women - they are less likely to have antibodies against S. aureus, compared with older women. But the use of tampons puts teenage girls at higher risk for infections.
Younger women are more likely to get toxic shock syndrome, possibly because of more exposure through tampons or barrier contraceptive use. It may also be because they haven’t developed the antibodies to fight the infection yet.
There are many other reasons as to why tampons should be avoided.
While tampons do not cause urinary tract infections, sometimes the use of tampons during infection can cause flare-ups. Not changing tampons at regular intervals during menstruation has also known to cause flare-ups in UTI symptoms. Using tampons can encourage the bacteria to breed much faster.
When you use a tampon, body liquids stay sealed inside for a long time. Upon contact with warmth and chemicals from hygiene products, a perfect environment for bacteria is created.
Some sources say that tampons can put extra pressure on your urethra through your vaginal walls which can in turn push bacteria inside your urethra. Generally, if you’re prone to UTI, avoid tampons or at least make sure you change them frequently. Never leave your tampon in for longer than 6 hours.
Tampons are not the only cause of the bacterial infection. It is prolonged tampon use that puts the risk higher for developing a more widespread infection. We encourage all women to pay attention to their health and consider healthier alternatives.
Overscheduled teens and young career women who may not have enough time to pay attention to their tampon wearing habits should especially be careful and consider safer alternatives.
When it comes to choosing menstrual products, it is obvious that tampons, particularly highly absorbent ones, may provide the right conditions for the bacteria to grow – especially if a tampon is left in longer than recommended.
To reduce the chance of developing toxic shock syndrome, gynecologists recommend swapping out tampons every two to three hours and avoid sleeping in them overnight. It is healthier to not keep your tampon in for more than 6 hours at a time – that’s because the risk of toxic shock syndrome is still there when you have something in your vagina for a long period of time.
Additionally, it’s best to use lower-absorbency tampons to reduce dryness and to switch off between tampons and pads.
To prevent toxic shock syndrome, the Cleveland Clinic recommends using pads instead of tampons at night and switching from tampons to pads every other day or during times of heaviest menstrual flow.
If you use a menstrual cup, make sure you do it the same way you would use tampons, which means emptying it frequently and not leaving it in for long periods of time.