Toxic shock syndrome (TSS)—you probably brush over it every time you open a box of tampons, warning you of the potentially deadly side effects in fine print. But not many of us understand this very dangerous and very real affliction as anything more than a horror story. Toxic shock syndrome is caused by toxins that enter the bloodstream due to overgrowth of a staph infection, causing a severe drop in blood pressure. This limits oxygen supply to the organs, which could potentially result in organ failure, loss of limbs and even death.
It is most common in menstruating women, and risk increases with the absorbance and size of the tampons used. However, anyone can contract TSS as the infection can spread through any open wounds or sores. The disease becomes more harmful the longer it is left untreated, so it is vital to be aware of the signs.
While your period may cause headaches and soreness, it should not result in a fever. A TSS-induced fever will occur very suddenly, rather than build gradually. If your temperature is measured over 102 degrees, you may be at risk for toxic shock syndrome.
One of the most telltale signs of TSS is the rash that shows up all over your body, especially on your palms and soles. However, you can differentiate the rash from those of other illnesses, like scarlet fever, because it is flat rather than bumpy and turns white to the touch. It may even start to scale or peel over like a sunburn.
Toxic shock syndrome can not only affect your organs but also may grab a hold on the central nervous system. This may result in confusion, disorientation, and dizziness. To make matters worse, fevers of 102 F and above (another common symptom of TSS) can cause a further degradation of critical thinking skills and mental clarity.
Vomiting or diarrhea
These symptoms are present in a host of illnesses, so don’t rely on it as the sole determinant of toxic shock syndrome. However, if you experience indigestion in addition to some of the signs more unique to TSS, like the rash or fever, speak to a medical professional.
While it is completely normal to have cramping in the lower abdomen during your period, abdominal pain from toxic shock syndrome occurs all over the stomach. Some people also report a general soreness throughout the body.
Redness around the eyes, mouth and throat
Since TSS is a bacterial disease, it triggers a dramatic immune reaction. One of the most common signs of a severe immune reaction is an unusual redness in and under the eyes, on the tongue and over the lips.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to throw out all your tampons, but be sure to take precautions. First, seek the lowest absorbency tampon possible, perhaps varying in levels throughout the length of your period. Be sure to change your tampon every four to eight hours, and use a pad overnight or on light flow days. Finally, wash your hands before inserting a tampon to further avoid any bacterial contamination.