April 20, 2024

Toxic Shock Syndrome Symptoms And Care

You’ve probably been warned about Toxic Shock Syndrome at some point and been wary of wearing tampons ever since. It’s little wonder. Although rare, the condition can develop in a matter of hours and can be fatal.

It’s something Love Island alumni, Maura Higgins, is keen to impart after admitting she had a run in with the condition herself while appearing on an episode of Shopping With Keith Lemon. She admitted, “I did have a very bad experience … I know you are not meant to leave a tampon inside for more than I think it’s nine hours. I think that’s the max. There was a tampon inside me for three months. When the doctor found it, it was stuck to my cervix and I was so ill. I did not know what was going on. ” She continued, saying, “these things happen.

I’m sure that there are so many women that have done that before. There are people that have died from that happening. Young girls might not notice – you go on a night out, what if you’ve got really drunk and you forgot? These things actually do happen. ”

It sounds scary, but instead of panicking each time you’re on your period, it’s even more important to know exactly what to look out for, and what to do about it. It’s also worth knowing how long you can really leave a tampon in safely.

What is Toxic Shock Syndrome?

Toxic Shock Syndrome is a potentially life-threatening condition caused by a specific strain of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, which is usually found on the skin and on mucous membranes, and normally exists without causing any issues. However, under the right conditions, these bacteria can flourish and multiply, all the while producing toxins that build up and up to cause a whole host of extremely serious complications.

One such particularly hospitable condition for these bacteria is an internal period product, like a tampon or a menstrual cup. The moisture, warmth and absorbency creates ideal conditions for the bacteria to flourish, and as a result, to produce dangerous levels of fatal toxins. Toxic Shock Syndrome is mostly associated with the «super absorbent tampons» produced in the 1980s, however, these types of tampons have been discontinued and the number of cases of TSS has dropped dramatically as a result.

But, tampons aren’t the only cause of TSS. Anyone – men and children included – can get TSS, which can also be caused by burns, cuts, insect bites, skin infections and surgery. Around half of TSS cases are related to menstruation.

Although it’s important to be aware of TSS, the good news is it’s very rare. In fact, according to the UK Public Health Laboratory Service, there are only 40 cases of TSS per year in the UK.

How long can you leave a tampon in?

Your chances of developing TSS are increased by forgetting to remove a tampon, leaving it in for too long and choosing a tampon with high absorbency. According to the NHS and Tampax, you should never leave a tampon in for more than 8 hours. While it may seem cost effective to just choose the highest absorbency tampon and leave it in for as long as possible, Tampax insists it’s important to choose the lowest absorbency necessary for your menstrual flow, which will likely change during your period from heavier at the beginning, to lighter at the end. If it feels uncomfortable, go down a size. If it leaks, go up a size. But either way, don’t leave it in for longer than 8 hours.

Can you sleep with a tampon in?

According to Tampax, you can if you follow the same 8 hour system. Insert your tampon last thing before you go to sleep, then remove it first thing when you wake up. But, if you think you’ll sleep for longer than 8 hours, they recommend using a pad.

What happens if you’ve left a tampon in for longer than advised?

As mentioned, TSS is extremely rare – you’re more likely to get struck by lightning, but the consequences can be dangerous. If you’ve left it in for longer than advised, chances are, you’ll be OK. Just make sure you remove it as soon as you realise and be aware of any of the symptoms of TSS developing (see below).

Can TSS be treated?

TSS is treatable, especially if you identify it early. If you believe you have it, head straight to the hospital. The most common treatment is antibiotics which should clear away the infection and most people feel better within a few days. In more severe cases you might be given an infusion of purified antibodies that have been taken out of donated blood and in very rare cases surgery may be needed to remove dead tissue, or it may be necessary to amputate the affected area.

What are the symptoms of Toxic Shock Syndrome?

While TSS is uncommon, it’s crucial that you know how to identify the onset of Toxic Shock Syndrome in its early stage. So, we’ve laid out every single symptom so you can be best equipped to act fast – the quicker the condition is treated, the better the outcome.

A sudden high fever

Unlike a cold or flu, TSS develops very quickly, over a matter of hours. If you develop a fever of 39 degrees Celsius or above and have reason to believe the cause could be TSS, visit your nearest A&E department.

Sudden flu-like symptoms

The bacterial toxins cause the body to go into shock, so a sudden onset of flu-like symptoms is one of the signs to look out for. These can include chills, sweats, feeling or being sick, headache, red eyes and throat, but is unlikely to include the respiratory symptoms of a cold like a runny nose or a phlegmy cough.

A sunburn-like rash

If you are developing TSS, you may develop a sunburn-like rash, particularly on the palms of your hands and soles of your feet – though it can occur anywhere – which looks sore, red, shiny and may blister.


Confusion or feeling disorientated is your body’s way of telling you everything isn’t OK. If you experience confusion, make sure to tell someone immediately and do not try and drive yourself to hospital or go anywhere alone.

Loss of consciousness

Needless to say, this is a serious symptom that requires urgent medical attention.

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