Toxic Shock Syndrome: symptoms and causes

Toxic Shock Syndrome is commonly viewed as a disease that only affects biological women, given its association with tampons. However, any human can develop this condition, including, males, children, adult women, and post-menopausal women.

What is Toxic Shock Syndrome?

Toxic Shock syndrome is a rare condition caused by bacterial infection, that rapidly turns into sepsis and septic shock, a generalised infection that spreads to tissues and vital organs through the bloodstream. Basically, bacteria attacks your body, and your body, trying to fight back, lowers the blood pressure. This leads to the death of various tissues in the organism, and can even lead to amputation of limbs.

What are the causes of Toxic Shock Syndrome?

Toxic Shock Syndrome is caused by essentially two types of bacteria: Streptococcus pyogenes or Staphylococcus aureus – commonly called Strep and Staph bacteria, respectively. These two bacteria live naturally in the human body, for example, staph bacteria live harmlessly on human skin, often in the nose, armpits and on the buttocks; strep bacteria, on the other hand, can be found in the throat, genital mucosa, rectum, and skin.

While these bacteria, staph and strep, can be present in the human body without causing harm, they can also become very dangerous in an infection – and cause a series of conditions, namely Toxic Shock Syndrome. This happens when, for some reason, these two bacteria get deeper into the body than normal and cause a massive infection. However, scientists are not 100% sure of how this happens exactly, given it is very rare.

Although tampons are pointed as the sole culprits of Toxic Shock Syndrome, this is not the truth. The prolonged use of tampons can, indeed, increase the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome. Other risk factors are:

  • using female barrier contraceptives like sponges and diaphragms;
  • use of menstrual cups;
  • skin lesions, such as cuts, burns, boils, insect bites or post-surgery wounds;
  • throat infections, associated with strep;
  • viral infections, like flu or chickenpox;
  • complications of surgery.

What are the symptoms of Toxic Shock Syndrome?

The symptoms of Toxic Shock Syndrome can vary depending on the source of the infection. The list of symptoms includes:

  • high fever that spikes suddenly;
  • flu-like symptoms – headache, feeling cold, extreme tiredness or exhaustion, body aches, sore throat and cough;
  • nausea and vomiting;
  • diarrhoea;
  • dizziness, fainting and low blood pressure;
  • serious headache;
  • sunburn-like rash, particularly in the palms and soles;
  • seizures;
  • mental confusion;
  • trouble breathing.

Based on the not-extensive information available, Toxic Shock Syndrome due to tampons shows symptoms that can be confused with a cold, a flu and with a gastroenteritis (stomach flu).

How to stay safe?

You probably have the million-dollar question in your head: do tampons cause Toxic Shock Syndrome?This question is very controversial. While there are doctors and scientists that affirm tampons are a cause of Toxic Shock Syndrome, many others classify the use of tampons as a risk factor like many others.

A blood-saturated tampon is a hotspot for rapid growth of bacteria, and this is exactly why you should not wear tampons for more than the recommended time (4 to 6 hours). The material the tampons are made also seems to have an influence, since polyester provides a better environment for the growth and proliferation of bacteria than organic cotton – do you know the difference between conventional tampons and organic cotton tampons?

Although Toxic Shock Syndrome is unpredictable and difficult to prevent (due to being so rare), there are some ways to minimize the risk of getting it, especially when it comes to the use of tampons:

  • don’t leave wounds and burns untreated;
  • seek medical advice if you notice signs of infection on a wound or burn, such as swelling, redness and increasing pain;
  • when using female barrier contraception, do not exceed the times given by the manufacturer;
  • wash your hands before inserting a tampon;
  • change your tampon preferably every 4 hours, or even more frequently if you have a high-flow;
  • always use the lowest absorbency level suitable to your period flow;
  • to avoid using a high absorbency tampon, complement with a sanitary pad or panty liner;
  • use sanitary pads during the night instead of tampons, so you don’t have to wake up mid-sleep to change it;
  • never use more than one tampon at a time;
  • prefer organic cotton tampons instead of polyester-made;
  • make sure to remove the final tampon in the end of your cycle.

Check some other things you should NOT do while on your period.

If you find yourself having any symptoms while wearing a tampon, better be on the safe side and remove it. If the symptoms worry you, seek medical help.

Toxic Shock Syndrome is a serious condition that, when untreated, can kill in hours. However, if caught early, Toxic Shock Syndrome is treatable, and most people make a full recovery within three weeks.

Did you know that Clementine’s My Period Box allows you to create your own mix of natural certified organic cotton period products? You can mix & match from a wide range of tampons with and without applicator, night and day pads with or without wings, and panty liners to your own preference.

The best part? All of Clementine’s period products are natural, made of organic cotton, corn starch and bamboo starch, and are completely hypoallergenic, fragrance-, clorine-, and dioxin bleach free. While obviously being eco-friendly and almost zero-waste.

Take good care. Of yourself. Of your health. Of Mother Earth.






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