Written By Megan Allen
*Not medical advice. Informational only.*
Toxic Shock Syndrome has haunted each and everyone of us who has ever purchased a box of tampons. How many of us read through the whole novel of a booklet in our first tampon box and procrastinated our first try even longer?
We’ve heard horror stories of models losing limbs because of one tampon use and wonder, “Well if that can happen to her, it can happen to me...” TSS has been in the back of our minds but most of the time, we put in our tampons and go on with our day.
What even is Toxic Shock Syndrome?
Toxic + shocking = not good. TSS is a combination of bacterial infections stemming from Staph (Staphylococcus aureus) or even Strep (Group A Streptococci). We can have those bacterias already existing in and on our bodies (30–50% of healthy adults and 10–20% of women carry it in the vagina) but they become harmful in a situation where the bacteria can overproduce, enter the bloodstream and cause a severe and critical immune reaction.
Tampons can disrupt the pH levels of the vagina that keep bacteria growth at bay and create an environment for the introduced bacteria to thrive. A fibrous and saturated tampon left inside the vagina can create a breeding ground for bacteria, which can then enter the bloodstream via micro-tearing that occurs with continual insertion and removal (especially with dry tampons). TSS is also not limited to those who use tampons—it can begin from any cut or injury where the bacteria can enter the bloodstream.
How To Protect Yourself
Beginning TSS symptoms can mimic the flu, so it’s crucial to get help ASAP if you start feeling yucky or off. If you live on your own, make sure to have some type of emergency plan and tell others you’re feeling sick so they can check on you. Lauren Wasser (the model who has now lost both legs) was left alone in her apartment way too long and needed immediate medical attention.
There are of course many ways someone can misuse a tampon and increase their chances of contracting TSS. Make sure to always wash your hands before you insert a tampon and keep the tampon wrapped right up until use. TSS risks have been associated with higher absorbency tampons so make sure to use the lowest absorbency possible during your cycle.
Are Menstrual Cups Safe?
Now, we’ve set the record straight on tampons but, around these parts, we’re all about the menstrual cup. (First, consult your doctor before using a menstrual cup if you’ve previously been diagnosed with TSS.) Not only is the Saalt Cup safer to be inserted for up to twelve hours, it’s silicone-based and less likely to disturb our precious pH.
Of course, menstrual cups reduce the chances for bacteria to grow, but are not 100% free from TSS risk. Luckily the Saalt Cup is also non-toxic, hypoallergenic, and chemical free. You’re not introducing anything into the vagina that isn’t naturally biocompatible (ahem bleached polyester fibers) so there are way fewer chances for bacteria to grow as the Saalt Cup is collecting, not absorbing.
How Long Can You Keep a Menstrual Cup In?
You must vigilant about your menstrual cup hygiene. As long as the cup is emptied and washed at least every twelve hours, then you don't allow enough growth to be dangerous. You can definitely empty your cup more frequently to further minimize your risk. TSS bacteria can thrive in any disturbed environment, so be sure to rinse, rinse, rinse and disinfect properly. Always wash your hands before and after handling your Saalt Cup (no brainer) and clean your cup thoroughly between your periods. Store it in a nice, clean place as well, that’s also breathable (i.e. a cotton Saalt bag).
TSS is certainly scary, but also extremely rare. Of course, it only takes one horror story to occupy your mind, but there are only a few hundred cases in the U.S. per year out of our population of 323.1 million people. Relax—just be sure to use your Saalt Cup properly and practice proper hygiene.
Can You Sleep With a Menstrual Cup In?
A period is part of your life and the benefits of a menstrual cup go beyond convenience. Instead of maneuvering your sleep schedule around the tampon eight-hour cap, you can sleep in knowing your Saalt Cup is doing its part to keep you safer. Menstrual cup dangers are minimized, thanks to the aforementioned science beyond the Saalt Cup design.
Safety is a major priority at Saalt, which is why we do what we do. We want women to never be slowed down by their period or contracting infections from their products. Stay calm by taking the precautions listed here and deciding to choose a healthier and safer way. Tampons and pads are old technology. With a Saalt cup, we say hello to the new.