Toxic Shock Syndrome: Symptoms, Treatments & Causes
Find out what toxic shock syndrome is, what the common causes are, how it can be treated and prevented.
What is Toxic Shock Syndrome?
Toxic Shock Syndrome, otherwise known as TSS, is a condition that can be fatal if left untreated. Toxic Shock Syndrome is usually associated with the use of tampons in young women however, it can affect men, women and children of any age, and is caused by a bacterial infection.
It cannot be passed from person to person and your body does not develop immunity to it once you’ve had it. This means you could have toxic shock syndrome multiple times.
What Causes Toxic Shock Syndrome?
TSS is caused by either the staphylococcus or streptococcus bacteria. They are normally found on the skin and cause us no harm. If they make their way deeper into the body however, they can release toxins which cause damage to your tissue and organs. This can in turn cause them to stop working and result in death.
There are certain things that can increase your risk of developing Toxic Shock Syndrome:
- Tampon use - toxic shock syndrome and tampons are commonly linked. The reality is it’s very rare to get TSS when tampons are used properly however, if you use super-absorbent tampons or leave them in for longer than the recommended time then you are at a higher risk of developing TSS
- Female barrier contraceptive use - female barrier contraceptives such as diaphragms or caps can increase your risk of toxic shock syndrome
- Skin problems - certain skin issues such as cuts, burns, boils, insect bites and wounds may also increase your risk of TSS, leaving the body more open to bacterial infection
- Childbirth - during the birthing process, your risk of toxic shock syndrome is increased
- Nasal packing for nosebleeds - the staphylococcus and streptococcus bacteria are often found in your nose and mouth. They do not cause harm generally however, using nasal packing to treat nosebleeds could cause bacteria to retreat more deeply into your body resulting in TSS.
- Staphylococcal or streptococcal infections - this could be a through infection, impetigo or cellulitis.
What are the Symptoms of Toxic Shock Syndrome?
As toxic shock syndrome can be fatal if not treated promptly, it is important to know what symptoms to look out for.
TSS symptoms usually start very suddenly and get worse rapidly. They include:
- A fever or high temperature
- Flu-like symptoms such as headaches, chills, tiredness or exhaustion, aches and a sore throat or cough
- Nausea including both feeling and being sick
- A widespread rash
- Redness of the lips, tongue and whites of the eyes
- Dizziness and/or fainting
- Difficulty breathing
How Soon Do Toxic Shock Syndrome Symptoms Appear?
Toxic Shock Syndrome symptoms can appear very suddenly and must be treated promptly. Failure to receive medical attention for TSS can result in death.
When to Seek Medical Attention for TSS
You should seek medical attention immediately if you begin to experience the above mentioned symptoms.
It is unlikely that you have TSS but due to the severity of the condition, if you experience a combination of these symptoms you should contact your GP immediately, a local out of hours service or NHS 111.
If your symptoms are severe or are worsening rapidly, you should visit A&E immediately or call 999. If you are wearing a tampon, remove it and ensure that you tell the doctor if you have been wearing a tampon, had any recent burns or injuries to the skin, or had a recent skin infection.
Should a doctor suspect you have toxic shock syndrome, you will be referred to the hospital immediately, if not already there.
How Common is Toxic Shock Syndrome?
Toxic Shock Syndrome is rare. Due to its severity however, it should never be discounted should you experience a combination of the associated symptoms. The chances are you won’t have TSS but ignoring it could be fatal.
Toxic Shock Syndrome Treatment
If you are suffering from Toxic Shock Syndrome, you will be admitted to hospital and treated in the intensive care unit. TSS is treated by a number of methods to control and manage the different symptoms.
Treatment for Toxic Shock Syndrome may include:
- Antibiotics - used to treat the bacterial infection
- Pooled immunoglobulin - these are purified antibodies taken from donated blood, given to help fight the infection
- Oxygen - to aid breathing
- Fluids - to help prevent organ damage and dehydration
- Blood pressure medication
- Dialysis - if your kidneys stop working as they should, dialysis may be required
- Surgery - in the most severe cases where tissue has been damaged, surgery may be required to remove this. Affected areas may need to be amputated
Once you have been treated for Toxic Shock Syndrome, you will likely feel better within a matter of days. You may be required to stay in the hospital for weeks if you have had severe treatment such as surgery however.
How to Prevent Toxic Shock Syndrome
Although TSS is very rare, there are some measures you can take to reduce your risk of developing it.
You should always:
- Treat any wounds or burns quickly
- Seek medical attention if you notice any signs of infection of skin wounds and burns. This could include swelling, redness and increased pain
- Use tampons at the lowest absorbency suitable for your flow
- Alternate between tampons and alternative sanitary products such as pads, during your period
- Practice good hygiene when inserting a tampon, washing your hands before and after
- Change your tampon regularly - never wear a tampon for longer than the packaging states. Tampons should usually be changed every 4-8 hours
- Use tampons as directed - never insert more than one at a time
- Avoid using tampons overnight - if you do ensure that you insert it just before going to bed and change it as soon as you wake up
- Follow manufacturer instructions when using female barrier contraceptives - do not leave them in for longer than the specified time
For more information on Toxic Shock Syndrome, contact your GP.