How Do You Get Toxic Shock Syndrome

Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a risk associated with tampon use. Using super absorbent tampons, and/or leaving them in too long, are two primary risk factors

The average woman uses anywhere from 11,000 to more than 16,000 tampons in her lifetime. In addition to that, many regularly use sanitary pads. But did you know that these products can be a major source of toxic exposure?

That said, most tampons contain a blend of cotton, rayon, and synthetic fibers. Today, most cotton is genetically engineered (GE), and while the risks are unknown, inserting GE cotton into your vagina several times every month is likely no different than ingesting GMO food. 

Part of the problem has to do with the processing of the ingredients used in the tampons. To give tampons that pristine, “clean” white look, the fibers used must be bleached. Chlorine is commonly used for this, which can create toxic dioxin and other disinfection-by-products (DBPs) such as trihalomethane. The FDA recommends that tampons be free of dioxin, pesticide, and herbicide residues. But this is simply a recommendation, not a requirement.

According to the FDA, trace amounts of dioxins in tampons pose no expected health risks, yet studies have shown that dioxin accumulates in your fatty tissues, and according to a draft report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), dioxin a serious public health threat that has no “safe” level of exposure. Why does the FDA not take this into account? Published reports show that even low or trace levels of dioxins may be linked to:

  • Abnormal tissue growth in the abdomen and reproductive organs
  • Abnormal cell growth throughout the body
  • Immune system suppression
  • Hormonal and endocrine system disruption

Research has shown that not only are chemicals rapidly absorbed and circulated through the rest of your body via your vagina, but some chemicals, like hormone-mimicking substances, may lead to “higher than expected exposures” in the rest of your body. For instance, a vaginally applied dose of estradiol resulted in systemic estradiol levels 10 to 80 times higher than resulted from the same dose taken orally.

No matter what product you use during your period, it is very important that the pad or tampon be changed at least every four -six hours. Change more frequently to prevent infection or any other disease.

These are the symptoms of TSS. Should any of the following symptoms arise while using tampons during your period, make sure you seek medical help :

  • A sudden high fever
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • A rash resembling a sunburn, particularly on your palms and soles
  • Confusion
  • Muscle aches
  • Redness of your eyes, mouth and throat
  • Seizures
  • Headaches

Should any of the following symptoms arise while using tampons during your period, make sure you seek medical help:


  • Shock
  • Renal failure
  • Death

How to Avoid Toxic Shock Syndrome

1. Avoid super absorbent tampons — choose the lowest absorbency rate to handle your flow, and change the tampon more frequently instead 

2. Alternate the use of tampons with sanitary napkins or mini-pads during your period

3. Never leave a tampon inserted overnight; Bacteria can grow when a tampon is left in the vagina for the entire day or the entire night. Use overnight pads instead

4. Change tampons at least every 4 to 6 hours

5. When inserting a tampon, be extremely careful not to scratch your vaginal lining (avoid plastic applicators)

6. Do not use a tampon between periods

Toxic shock syndrome can recur. People who’ve had it once can get it again. If you’ve had toxic shock syndrome or a prior serious staph or strep infection, don’t use tampons.