9 Ways to Prevent Toxic Shock Syndrome

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By Jenny Hart

Womanhood is beautiful. The miracle of carrying life and having babies is also accompanied by other aspects of women’s health, such as menstruation and feminine care. Feminine care education (for men and for women) helps end the stigma surrounding the natural processes of womanhood and helps eliminate health risks that are specific to women, such as Toxic Shock Syndrome.

Toxic Shock Syndrome is an acute-onset illness caused by toxins that enter the body through certain strains of bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus (and less commonly, Streptococcus pyogenes). Traditionally, it is correlated with the use of high-absorbency tampons during menstruation, but more recent research has identified other causes for TSS as well. According to University of Utah Health, TSS is estimated to affect 3-6 people per 100,000 per year in the U.S. While men and women of any age can contract TSS, it is still most common in women, making the discussion about feminine care best practices more important than ever.

When it comes to feminine care, there are a number of ways to prevent complications such as TSS during your period:

1 Use pads when you can

According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders, it’s estimated that TSS related to tampon use occurs in about 1 in 100,000 menstruating women. One of the easiest ways to avoid Toxic Shock Syndrome is to use pads whenever you can. Many women wear pads while sleeping or on light flow days to avoid keeping a tampon in too long. This decreases your risk for bacterial infection by limiting your exposure to the chemicals that are primarily found in high-absorbency tampons.

2 Alternate using tampons and pads

Some studies suggest that if you’ve contracted Toxic Shock Syndrome in the past, you’re likely to contract it again. If you’d like to be extra safe, consider alternating tampons and pads throughout your period. Alternating products can help reduce the amount of time your body is exposed to either. While tampons are known as the main cause of TSS, using a pad for too long can cause other complications, such as a UTI. The key to avoiding complications is to know how to limit your exposure for any given set of time.

3 Change tampons often

While manufacturers of feminine care products have made tremendous improvements to the way tampons are produced, limiting TSS outbreaks, it is still known to happen from time to time. To avoid contracting it, tampons should be changed every 4 to 6 hours, or more frequently, depending on how heavy your flow is. Even if your flow is light, it’s important to change feminine care products regularly to make sure bacteria doesn’t set in.

4 Use low-absorbency or organic tampons

Historically, the ingredients used to make high-absorbency tampons increase the risk of TSS, so it’s important to only use them when your flow is heavy. If you’ve had a bacterial infection before, consider using junior tampons or organic tampons, as they do not present the same risks.

5 Only use tampons while on your period

It’s also crucial to avoid using tampons when you’re not on your period to prevent TSS, including for vaginal discharge or for any other reason between your cycles. If you are experiencing discomfort or excess discharge between your periods, consider using a pad or asking your doctor about alternative solutions.

6 Store tampons properly

Don’t forget to store your feminine care products in a cool, dry place. While it may not seem like a big deal, remember, bacteria grow in warm, moist environments. One of the best ways to avoid contracting TSS, in addition to proper tampon use, is maintaining a sanitary environment. Also be sure to avoid using any feminine care products with wrappers that have been torn or opened.

7 Wash your hands

Speaking of cleanliness, Wash your hands before and after inserting a tampon to ensure that no germs turn into bacterial infection. During your period, clean and healthy practices are imperative to prevent further complications.

8 Keep all wounds clean, dry and bandaged

Since TSS is an infection caused by bacteria entering the body through openings in the skin, it’s important to keep any wounds clean, dry and covered. If you’ve recently suffered an injury or had a surgery, such as a C-section, make sure you change your bandages often and keep your incision site clean, according to your doctor’s recommendations.

9 Be aware of your body

Finally, the best way to prevent or address any serious health condition is to listen to your body and, in this case, be aware of what you’re feeling during your period. Toxic Shock Syndrome symptoms include sudden fever, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, muscle aches, confusion and even seizures. These symptoms will likely be felt a day or two after the infection takes place. If you begin to feel any of these symptoms during or following your period, see a doctor to rule out any potential risks and to get the right treatment.

About the Author

Jenny Hart is a health and wellness writer with a passion for travel, cycling and books. When she isn’t writing or travelling, she’s traversing NYC with her two dogs Poochie and Ramone.

Sources: 

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/toxic-shock-syndrome/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459345/
https://healthcare.utah.edu/healthfeed/postings/2018/07/tss.php
https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/32/10/1470/466771

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