So you heard about toxic shock syndrome (TSS) and it’s left you feeling confused, unsure of what to do or even slightly panicked. We totally get it, but the good news is it’s not as scary as it may sound. Stick around and we'll explain exactly what TSS is and what you can do to keep you and your vagina safe and happy.
What is toxic shock syndrome?
Toxic shock syndrome is caused by two types of bacteria – Streptococcus pyogenes or Staphylococcus aureus – or more commonly known as strep or staph bacteria. An overgrowth of these bacterias can result in harmful toxins being released into your bloodstream. When your body tries to fight back, your blood pressure can lower which results in TSS.
Do tampons cause toxic shock syndrome?
Firstly, whilst tampons are often pointed to as the sole culprits of toxic shock syndrome, this is simply not true. The bacterial infection can happen to anyone from things like menstrual cups, surgery complications, viral infections (think, flu or chickenpox), throat infections (hello, strep), and even barrier contraceptives.
Secondly, the issue is not strictly tampons as a product but more the way people are using them. A rise in TSS cases was originally connected to RELY “super absorbent” tampons. The super absorbent tampons encouraged the tendency of leaving tampons in for much longer than is safe, promoting bacterial overgrowth.
It's worth noting that "super absorbent" tampons are in a different category to the “super” tampons that you can commonly find in stores. A fully saturated super tampon can hold up to 12 mililiters of fluid. Meanwhile, the RELY super absorbent tampons could hold up to 20 times their weight in fluid.
Following the removal of RELY super absorbent tampons in 1986, regulations and information surrounding tampon usage improved. We now know that the most important habit when using a tampon is to change your tampon regularly. Today, TSS is considered to be a rare (but still pretty serious) condition, with cases having declined to about 1 in 100,000.
Are organic cotton tampons less likely to cause TSS?
All of our eco-friendly tampons are made from 100% organic cotton so you might be wondering: can you get TSS from organic cotton tampons?
Research from New York University Medical School concluded that 100% organic cotton tampons reduce the risk of TSS compared with synthetic tampons. Meanwhile, results concluded by University Claude Bernard suggested that 100% organic cotton tampons may not be “intrinsically safer.”
The information is at times conflicting, but remember babes, TSS was originally linked to super absorbent tampons. This tampon category was created when synthetic materials entirely replaced cotton in tampons. When investigated, super absorbent tampons were found to capture and hold enough oxygen within the vaginal canal to promote the growth of TSS related bacterias.
Today, even synthetic tampons contain some amount of cotton within their composition, suggesting zero cotton within a tampon is an issue. That’s why at FLO, we choose to create tampons that are made from 100% organic cotton – for that safe, ‘cloud in a vagina’ type of feeling.
Your vagina is amazingly complex, and whilst home to multiple types of bacteria, we want to help you keep that at a normal, balanced level. That’s why our tampons even come in combo packs with regular absorbency and super absorbency. So, if your flow is heavier at the beginning of your period but lighter towards the end, you can adjust accordingly without a worry!
So what should I do?
It’s worth remembering that toxic shock syndrome is still rare and easily avoidable. A few simple ways to reduce your risk include:
Most importantly, don’t panic. Now that you know exactly what toxic shock syndrome is and all the ways to reduce the risk, you can say bye bye to TSS. And at FLO, we’ll be waving goodbye right next to you with our 100% organic tampons, made from cotton whilst also being biodegradable. Or, if tampons and organic period pads aren’t your vibe, check out our reusable pants - they’re washable and hold up to 5 tampons' worth of menstrual flow!
Here’s to looking after yourself and looking after the planet, too.