TSS (Toxic Shock Syndrome) has been linked with tampons for many reasons. However, it is worth mentioning that TSS is not only caused by tampon use. TSS can also affect men, children and non-tampon wearing women. However considering more than half the cases of TSS are from tampon use… their use does increase the chances of developing the condition.
TSS is basically where a particular bacteria produces toxins that affect the body. It would seem to have an affect ranging from “cold-like symptoms”, to hair loss, skin loss, swelling and of course, sadly, death. While rare, death is unfortunately a possibility if not treated in time. Because of the ordinary seeming first symptoms, it can sometimes be too late once you have the condition. So it is important to pay attention to anything out of the ordinary when using tampons (or avoid them all together!)
You may have these bacteria already living in your body, but they can be in smaller numbers that do not lead to TSS, until using a tampon, which allows the bacteria to multiple and the toxin levels to rise. You may not have the antibodies necessary to fight it (one reason younger people are more susceptible), so it’s not necessarily from bacteria introduced into the body that causes it, It can be caused by an increase in bacteria already present. (remembering of course that tampons are not sterile)
So what’s wrong with tampons?
Duration of use – The length of time the tampon is used is likely to be the main factor. If there is a tampon in the vagina continuously (either one kept in for long periods of time, or several tampons used without a “break”, this can increase the risks. This is because the longer a tampon is inside the vagina, the longer the bacteria have to breed on them. Taking a break from tampon use will allow the menstrual flow to flush the vagina of any remaining rayon fibres.
Rayon – One problem is the fact that tampons are generally made from rayon fibres. Which seems to be a 2 part problem. One being that the fibres would seem to be able to harbour the bacteria that causes TSS. Some studies have shown that the bacteria that causes TSS is found more on rayon fibres than cotton or other fibres (Although I have seen other studies that indicate there is no difference between the 2). The second is that upon removal of a tampon, some of these fibres can be left behind in the vagina (and if those fibres are breeding bacteria on them, and they are stuck in the vagina – that’s a problem).
Damage – Another problem is that the rather unyielding dry tampon and tampon applicator (for those who use that kind) can do damage to the delicate walls of the vagina. Once the delicate skin of the vagina has been damaged, that can make the vagina more prone to infections and provide another place for bacteria to grow and enter the bloodstream.