Blog: General

By now we're all (hopefully) aware of the potential risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) associated with tampon use. Many of us remember the scare back in 1980, when a sudden rise in TSS cases was linked to the introduction of highly absorbent, synthetic fiber tampons. At least one brand of tampons—Rely, which used superabsorbent carboxymethylcellulose and compressed beads of polyester for absorption—was immediately pulled from the market. Shortly after the FDA embarked on a massive labeling and educational campaign to make consumers aware of the link between tampon absorbency and risk of TSS—a concept in stark contrast to Rely's tagline, "It Even Absorbs the Worry."

Between 1980 and 1981, tampon-related TSS cases constituted 90% of all TSS cases. However, after 1981 that statistic declined significantly, likely due to an increase in awareness of the link between tampon absorbency and TSS. But recent evidence may suggest that tampon-related TSS in on the rise once again. A Minneapolis-based surveillance group found an increase in the number of cases between 2000 and 2005, consistent with the Centers for Disease Control’s recorded 18% increase from 2002 to 2003.

There are a couple of theories explaining this rise. The first is a change in tampon usage patterns. In 1999, the FDA allowed for the labeling of a new category of high absorbency tampons (with a capacity to absorb 15 to 18 grams of fluid) called “ultra.” Subsequently there was an increase in the availability of ultra tampons in stores. Pre-2000, the most absorbent category of tampons was “super-plus,” which absorbed a maximum of 15 grams of fluid.

Second, the FDA’s relaxed policy of letting tampon manufacturers use the word “overnight” on their packaging could be to blame for some cases of TSS. Although the word “overnight” is supposed to mean eight hours or less in accordance with FDA guidelines, it’s difficult to know whether women are actually regulating their sleep time when wearing a tampon to heed this regulation.

Although the true culprit behind the recent rise in TSS remains unclear, we should consider this a startling reminder about the risks tampons pose if not used with caution. Becoming complacent with our sanitary products, especially after longtime use, may lessen the impact of product warnings. Will it take another health scare like the one in 1980 for us to snap out of it?? Luckily, interest in non-tampon forms of period protection is on the rise as well. Products like Instead Softcup are offering protection as good as, if not better than, tampons, and have not been associated with any incidence of TSS. Softcups don't just provide safe, long-lasting period protection, they offer peace of mind.


 Resources: Tierno, Philip M., Jr. 2005. Reemergence of Staphylococcal Toxic Shock Syndrome in the United States since 2000. J. Clin. Microbiol. 43.4.2032–2033.2005. 


My daughter died of TSS just 10 months ago.

I almost died of TSS 2 years ago this June. I was using ULTRA absorbency Playtex Tampons.

My daughter almost died of (TSS) Toxic Shock Syndrome 9 months ago July 2010...She was using Playtex Sport Tampons.

My daughter was using Playtex regulars

CDC don't monitor TSS any more - they had such high criteria that only 1/3 of TSS cases were being recorded. Leading experts predict 1 in 700 women get tampon-related TSS during their life, but as many cases are mild and undiagnosed/misdiagnosed figures are lacking.

TSS is only associated with chemically treated rayon tampons - while tampon companies are self-regulated and self-tested, we don't know what they're using or the health risks. Obviously in the 90's you had the dioxin scare (still an issue), so I wonder if newer types of rayon tampons are responsible for a rise in TSS.

The BIGGEST cause of increase as far as I've seen is simply misuse - using for 8 hours is too long and overnight is unhealthy. I've heard women doing far worse too - they have no concern about TSS or other risks because of ignorance due to misinformation.

As long as women don't understand the risks of tampon use, or think it important to follow precautions with tampon use, they won't see the health and convenience benefits of cups...and will keep misusing tampons.

I disagree with misuse. My daughter only used regulars and changed like clockwork. I know because i had to buy them. Did you know that the toxins begin to be produced two hours after putting in a tampon, even when you change a tampon the toxin stays in waiting for the next tampon to continue. The only way to dissipate the toxin is to leave the tampon out for 8 hours. My daughter was scared of TSS so she tried to follow everything they said. It still killed her.

Shelly's daughter almost died of TSS, she wasn't even using a tampon at the time. All she had was left over fibers from a tampon the previous week. How can this be misuse?

I remember a girl in the dorms with me in clgoele having to take months off because of how sick she got from TSS. Before that, I had only thought it a random thing, something they list on the box to warn you because they're required by law, not something people actually got, and if you did you were "dirty" and had left your tampon in for days. The combination of seeing my classmate so sick and reading the book Cunt, which discusses the money made by large corporations ran by men off of women "sanitary" products, made me switch to reusable cup devices and organic tampons. I've recently branched out into other alternative products like sea sponges and Glad Rags and I'm doing a review on my site. I'll let you know when that comes up and I'll definitely link to You Are Loved.

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