It's Your Health
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Using tampons versus external protection-like pads when you have your period is a personal decision. However, you should know that using tampons may present certain health risks, like an increased risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome.
Toxic Shock Syndrome is a rare, but serious infection that occurs when toxins made by certain strains of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria (Staph) get into the bloodstream. The initial symptoms are similar to the flu, and can include high fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, fainting, and disorientation. Those affected by TSS might also experience low blood pressure, shock, dehydration, sore throat, muscle pain, peeling skin, and a rash that looks like a sunburn. Toxic Shock Syndrome can be fatal if it is not diagnosed and treated right away.
Tampon use may also cause an increased risk of vaginal dryness and vaginal ulcers, especially if the tampons used are more absorbent than is needed to control menstrual flow. Using tampons may also put you at risk for serious hygiene problems if tampons are forgotten and not taken out on time.
These tips will help you minimize health risks when using tampons:
If you have any of the symptoms of TSS when using a tampon, remove it and get immediate medical help. If you can't reach your doctor, go to the nearest Emergency Care facility. Make sure the health care professional treating you knows that you were using a tampon when the symptoms started.
Menstrual tampons are made from cotton, rayon, or a blend of both materials. Rayon is a synthetic product made from cellulose, which comes from wood pulp. Women in North America have been using tampons since the 1930s. In the early 1980s, there was an epidemic of Toxic Shock Syndrome in North America that was associated with the use of a high-absorbency tampon and strains of toxin-producing bacteria.
Tampons do not cause Toxic Shock Syndrome, and the disease is not limited to menstruating women. Men, non-menstruating women, and children can also get TSS. The incidence of TSS has dropped significantly since the epidemic in the early 1980s. Over the last number of years, only a few cases have been reported, and of these, about half were associated with tampon use. Younger women (under the age of 30) are at greater risk than older women because they have not yet developed the antibodies to the toxin that causes TSS.
Scientists have not been able to determine exactly what the link is between tampons and Toxic Shock Syndrome. There may be a number of factors, such as hygiene practices and the length of time a tampon is left in place. Greater tampon absorbency appears to be a factor, because there are more cases reported among women who use high-absorbency tampons. Other risk factors include the use of barrier methods of contraception, like the sponge, cervical cap, or diaphragm. The material of manufacture, whether cotton or rayon, has not been found to be a risk factor.
In recent years, a number of false rumours about tampons have been circulating over the Internet. These e-mails may say that tampon manufacturers add asbestos to tampons to promote heavy bleeding, or that tampons contain toxic chemicals, like dioxins. Another rumour claims that tampons made of rayon present a greater risk of TSS than tampons made of cotton. These rumors should be treated as FALSE for the following reasons:
In Canada, menstrual tampons are regulated as medical devices. Health Canada makes sure that the tampons sold in Canada are safe, effective, and of high quality based on requirements for licensing, quality manufacture, and post-market surveillance. Before a device license is given to a manufacturer, tampon-package labelling must contain specific information about absorbency. Labels must also provide details about the risks and symptoms of Toxic Shock Syndrome, and instructions on what to do if you have these symptoms.
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Updated: January 2011
Original: May 2005
ęHer Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Health, 2005