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TSS & Cups
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TSS (Toxic Shock Syndrome) has been linked with tampons for many reasons. However, it is worth mentioning that TSS is not only caused by tampon use. TSS can also affect men, children and non-tampon wearing women. However considering more than half the cases of TSS are from tampon use... their use does increase the chances of developing the condition.
TSS is basically where a particular bacteria produces toxins that affect the body. It would seem to have an affect ranging from "cold-like symptoms", to hair loss, skin loss, swelling and of course, death. Death, while rare, is unfortunately a possibility if not treated in time. Because of the ordinary seeming first symptoms, it can sometimes be too late once you have the condition. So it is important to pay attention to anything out of the ordinary when using tampons (or avoid them all together!)
You may have these bacteria already living in your body, but they can be in smaller numbers that do not lead to TSS, until using a tampon, which allows the bacteria to multiple and the toxin levels to rise. You may not have the antibodies necessary to fight it (one reason younger people are more susceptible), so it's not necessarily from bacteria introduced into the body that causes it, It can be caused by an increase in bacteria already present. (remembering of course that tampons are not sterile)
So what's wrong with tampons?
There apparently were tampons in the 1980s that used super absorbent crystals (like those found in nappies/diapers today), making them highly absorbent and an even higher TSS risk. This was eventually discovered and the compounds discontinued.
Proctor & Gamble even withdrew one of their tampons from sale due to the deaths they caused. http://www.mum.org/relyart8.htm
Chlorine bleaching (the process the fibre that makes up the tampon has to go through to become white) produces dioxins, an incredibly toxic compound. Which has also said to be a link to TSS (as well as cervical cancer and other cancers of the reproductive system). But then chlorine bleach is also using to make other items white - including disposable menstrual pads, toilet paper (and even cotton cloth - which is used not only in clothing, but also many cloth menstrual pads) - so you can't get away from it, but it is probably a good idea to limit exposure as much as possible, and I can't imagine putting it near your cervix is going to be good for you.... Modern manufacturers are switching to non-chlorine bleaching, which apparently doesn't produce dioxins. There are no regulations on what can go into a tampon, and companies do not have to disclose what is in their products to consumers.
See the page here on TSS, Dioxins, Asbestos etc. from the US FDA - http://www.fda.gov/cdrh/consumer/tamponsabs.html (do note the wording - "No risk to health would be expected from these trace amounts.".... Its not saying there is no risk....just that they don't expect it... you have to wonder why it's worded that way)
The tampons containing asbestos myth is untrue! Tampons are not made to include asbestos to make women bleed more! (although according to a Drs letter here there are trace amounts of asbestos in lots of things, including wood pulp - http://www.mum.org/tamsafty.htm).
While they may not contain Asbestos or Dioxides, tampons may contain other nasty chemicals. A study done in 1981 found that tampons leach boron, aluminium, copper, waxes, surfactants, alcohols, acids, nitrogen compounds and hydrocarbons..... and these are going into the most delicate parts of your body! Cotton (non-organic) tampons may also contain traces of pesticides. According to some research, tampons absorb magnesium from the body, which can lead to the production of toxins, and can upset the balance of our natural flora, causing thrush.
Ok... so if there aren't the scary crystals or dioxins in them any more... what's the problem?
One problem still remaining is the fact that tampons are generally made from rayon fibres. Which seems to be a 2 part problem. One being that the fibres would seem to be able to harbour the bacteria that causes TSS. Studies have shown that the bacteria that causes TSS is found more on rayon fibres than cotton or other fibres. The second is that upon removal of a tampon, some of these fibres can be left behind in the vagina (and if those fibres are breeding bacteria on them, and they are stuck in the vagina - that's a problem).
Interestingly, it would seem that all cotton tampons do not seem to breed this bacteria, nor leave behind the same fibres a rayon tampon does (A report of that found here and here )
Duration of use
The length of time the tampon is used can be a contributing factor. If there is a tampon in the vagina continuously (either one kept in for long periods of time, or several tampons used without a "break", this can increase the risks. This is because the longer a tampon is inside the vagina, the longer the bacteria have to breed on them. Taking a break from tampon use will allow the menstrual flow to flush the vagina of any remaining rayon fibres.
Another problem is that the rather unyielding dry tampon and tampon applicator (for those who use that kind) can do damage to the delicate walls of the vagina. Once the delicate skin of the vagina has been damaged, that can make the vagina more prone to infections and provide another place for bacteria to grow and enter the bloodstream.
Sterile & safe?
We tend to think of tampons as being safe - surely they are sterile?....they are white and come packaged in plastic?..... not so. They are not sterile at all. As for being safe, that is highly debatable, and the problem is that when studies are done into the safety of tampons, its often funded by tampon manufacturers. Which can hardly be considered unbiased research.
...of course, I'm not unbiased either, I think tampons are evil and that women should use washable cloth pads and reusable menstrual cups... :) but I don't claim to be unbiased. Women need to be aware that there is even another option to tampons, and that there are risks in using tampons.
The truth of the matter is that women (and girls) *are* getting TSS from tampons. These are not just faceless statistics.... its people's daughters, mothers, cousins, aunts and friends....
So really... in my opinion, why take the risk?
While it may only be a small number of people who suffer this, are you willing to take that risk? Are you prepared for your tampon to one day potentially kill you?
Take a look at this website....http://www.tamponalert.org.uk, it was started by a family who lost their daughter (quite suddenly) to TSS.
There are alternatives, even for people who like internal protection...
Menstrual cups do not absorb fluids, don't leave any fibres behind and have not been linked to TSS. I can't find any research to back that up... except a reference on this page about the Tassaway cup (pic of a chart showing test results http://www.mum.org/tsschar2.jpg)... all other references are just saying that they have never been found to have caused TSS.
I've found reference to the fact that there was and old version of the Keeper (in actual fact if you look up their patent, they patented a design that had the hollow stem as a way to empty the cup while it was inserted - through a valve/cap at the end of the stem - so I wonder if this was the first version of the cup), which allowed the bacteria to form on it, as the rubber was porous, and the newer version (at that time) allowed less bacteria to grow as it was manufactured differently (less porous). http://www.mum.org/tamsafty.htm. So I wonder how that compares with silicone...
Sea Sponges would seem to have a lower chance of causing TSS than tampons, though I suspect there have been no studies into the use of them. I have seen one reference to a sponge user having TSS - http://www.cdc.gov/MMWR/preview/mmwrhtml/00000119.htm
Organic Cotton Tampons are said to be a safer option as they do not contain rayon, and the cotton is grown without the use of pesticides. However, they are still a tampon, and may still pose a risk
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