Toxic shock syndrome, commonly known as TSS, is a dangerous condition that every woman should be aware of—but you shouldn't be scared of using tampons, you just need to know the proper precautions to take. Dr Claire Morrison of MedExpress, who is also an NHS GP, says: "During the course of my work over the past 20 years, I have only rarely seen a case of toxic shock syndrome, but it is a condition that doctors should be vigilant in diagnosing, as it is very serious and life-threatening if not caught early enough."
2. Men can get it too.
Most people assume that toxic shock syndrome only occurs as a result of leaving a tampon in too long, but you can also get it from cuts, bites, burns or scalds, as the same bacteria can infect the skin through an open wound—it's not gender specific. However, it has also been linked to the use of menstrual sponges, diaphraghms and cervical caps, as well as tampons, so it's unsurpring TSS is most common in women under 30—in fact, up to 30% of cases are in women under the age of 19. You're also at a higher risk of developing it if you have recently given birth.
3. The symptoms can be misleading.
When you have toxic shock syndrome, bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus, which inhabits the skin and vagina, can overcome the body's defences, causing the release of toxins into the blood. "The initial symptoms include fever, diarrhea, vomiting, dizziness, muscle aches and lightheadedness, which may be mistaken for a viral infection," Dr Claire explains. Some people with TSS get a peeling rash; it looks similar to sunburn. If left too long, sufferers experience low blood pressure (shock), confusion, kidney failure and coma, and in severe cases, TSS can be fatal. It's important to know the signs so you can spot them early.
4. You can prevent it.
TSS first became common knowledge in the 70s and 80s, when several women died after using the same brand of super-absorbent tampon. This is why doctors now recommend that you use the lowest possible absorption—if your tampon is too efficient, you're far less likely to remember to change it regularly. Dr Claire also recommends changing your tampon every 4-6 hours, and never leaving one in for more than 8 hours. You should always wash your hands before and after changing a tampon, and make sure you've removed the old one before inserting a replacement.
5. Tampons can "expire."
When was the last time you looked at the box of your tampons to see if they were still in date? The answer is probably never, but it turns out that just like your beauty products, tampons do technically have a best-before—whilst there's no explicit link between toxic shock and expired sanitary products, since TSS is linked to hygiene, it makes sense to abide by it. Regular tampons are generally fine, as they are just cotton, but scented tampons should be checked if you've had them lurking in your bathroom for a while; the chemicals that give them that fresh fragrance can change over time, potentially leading to irritation and infection.
6. It can be treated.
If you do develop TSS and catch it early on, it can be treated with antibiotics and fluids. You may need to stay in hospital, but this is generally just a precaution. If you're on your period and you have any of the symptoms listed above, you should remove your tampon and seek medical advice immediately. Even if you really do just have an illness like flu, which has similar symptoms, it's better to be on the safe side—and if you do have TSS, the quicker you receive treatment, the better.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.