Before we had all these different tampon alternatives, teen magazines like Dolly and Girlfriend had me convinced that if I left one in I would get Toxic Shock Syndrome. The minute you start menstruating you hear cautionary tales of young people who left their tampon in for too long ending up in the emergency room. Fast forward to today, and I still wake up in the middle of the night if I’ve accidentally fallen asleep with a tampon in, fearful that this time might be that one time that triggers TSS.
If you’ve ever had a period, you understand the banality of it all. It slips your mind — especially during the first and last few days of your period — and hours later you suddenly remember you’ve still got a wedge of cotton inside you that’s so full it’s grown twice the size. As you pull it out you can’t help but think about how something catastrophic could have happened, because it can… even though, according to experts it actually takes the perfect storm (read: vaginal environment) to occur.
What exactly is toxic shock syndrome?
Microbiologists and scientists discovered that the TSS is caused by a toxin called TSST-1. The TSST-1 toxin is produced from the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus and when the TSST-1 toxin crosses the vaginal mucosa and enters the bloodstream, it can result in low blood pressure, organ failure, and even death.
So how is it linked to tampons?
As Dr Patrick Schlievert previously told LH, a woman on her period with S. aureus present in her vagina will have more than enough bacteria to produce the toxin, “Menstrual blood can multiply Staph. aureus organisms from 1,000 to 10 billion,” he said. But, in order for all that bacteria to result in TSS, “you just need something to turn on the toxin,” and that something is air.
Meaning anytime someone inserts a tampon, menstrual cup or a disc, they risk introducing oxygen into the normally anaerobic vagina. Tampons, in particular, because of their absorbency and the frequency in which we change them, have the ability to trap more oxygen increasing the user’s risk of TSS.
And while microbiologists believe that most of us are immune after adolescence (because they’ve developed the antibodies that recognise and can inactivate the toxin), a small percentage of people can still have the toxic-producing strain of S. aureus present in their vaginas.
What are safe alternatives to tampons?
Period undies! Over the last year, I personally made the switch to period undies and let me tell you, not sleeping in a tampon is absolute bliss. Brands like Modibodi, have created a range of period undies and sleep shorts that are leak-proof, comfortable and can handle a heavy flow. Case in point: Their new sleep shorts. Backed by their proven-to-work technology, the shorts give you full protection from front to back, meaning you have absolutely zero fear of leaks. And If you’re not going to do it for your health, at least do it for those lush linen sheets you just spent half your pay check on… No? Just me? Ok.
If you’re keen to jump full speed onto the period undie train, we’ve thrown a few of Modibodi’s best-sellers together to get you started.