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How to Prevent Toxic Shock Syndrome

This article first appeared on EcoCult, which covers all things sustainable in New York City and beyond. Editor-in-Chief, Alden Wicker, has become the voice of New Yorkers eager to break the stereotypes about eco-friendly living and prove that living consciously can be beautiful, fun, and desirable.

A few weeks ago, I discussed natural, sustainable feminine products on Wellness Beets Podcast. Considering the risk of toxic shock syndrome, there’s never been a better time to make the switch. 


Oh, so you read that horrifying story about the beautiful, popular, gregarious young woman who almost died, but just ended up losing her leg from toxic shock syndrome? The alleged culprit: Kotex “Natural” Balance. (Yes, I put natural in quotes for a reason.)

I know. It’s terrifying. Especially when you consider that the symptoms – fever, rash, muscle aches, vomiting or diarrhea, confusion, low blood pressure – could be mistaken for the flu. Tampon boxes give a curt warning about toxic shock syndrome, so maybe she totally should have known? But in the story, even the doctors didn’t know why she was dying, until an infectious disease specialist asked if she had a tampon in.

Toxic shock syndrome as related to tampons happens when you have a specific strain of staph bacteria is present in your vag, which makes its way into the absorbent fibers of the tampon, multiplies, and produces a toxin that can eventually shut down your organs. About 20% of people have the bacteria on their skin or in their nose (you can also get TSS from packing your nose with cotton after a nosebleed, for example), but as per usual, we don’t know how many women have it in their vaginas. (Vaginas: so mysterious and icky that scientists never want to study them.)

Apologists like to say that toxic shock syndrome is relatively rare compared to the millions of women using tampons. As one doctor said in an article on The Cut, “Okay, don’t drive your car because you might get killed.” She’s got a point, actually: I don’t drive a car to work, because I have two alternatives: the subway and a bike. It’s too bad there aren’t easy alternatives to Kotex … OH WAIT, there are.

I’m gonna lay them out for you here:

1. Use a menstrual cup.

This is my top recommendation. I wouldn’t say they have changed my life, but they have made my period a lot less annoying. Check it: A menstrual cup is a supremely comfortable, bell-shaped silicone cup. You fold it in half, push it up in there, and it pops open and creates a seal. A super seal. A “Oh, I forgot I had my period for 24 hours” seal. Nope, it never ever leaks. Nope, you don’t have to set an alarm on your phone to make sure you take it out after eight hours. No, it definitely doesn’t dry you out down there. How often you switch it out depends on how heavy your flow is, but you can just … tell when you’re ready to dump it. You get a sort of full feeling. You pull it out, and dump it in the toilet. If you’re at home, just rinse it and put it back in. If you’re in a public bathroom, give it a wipe with toilet paper and put it back in. At the end of your cycle, pop it in some boiling water to sterilize it. I’ll also sprinkle baking soda on there to deodorize it and de-stain it.

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