Before her plane took off, Kirdar inserted a super tampon from a popular brand. When she exited the plane, about three hours later, she mustered enough energy to change the tampon. Kirdar says she didn’t know much about TSS at the time. “We didn’t cover it in my health class at school. I had just turned 15 years old so I had not been to the gynecologist yet,” Kirdar says. “The only thing that I had been told from my mother was not to use a single tampon for more than six to eight hours and to not sleep with a tampon.”

Five days later, after four IVs, multiple medications, and oxygen tubes, Kirdar was diagnosed with TSS. Doctors suspected she had the infection but needed tests to confirm it as they were skeptical since she wasn’t using tampons for long periods of time. But, leaving a tampon in for more than six to eight hours straight is just one of many ways to get TSS from tampon usage.

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How do you get TSS from tampons?

“TSS occurring with tampon usage is typically more common with high absorbency tampons, tampons that are left in the vagina for long periods of time, or using tampons consistently throughout your menstrual period,” says Tiffany Pham, DO, a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist and medical advisor for Flo Health. “When a high absorbency tampon is used, they are typically left in place for longer periods of time. This can allow bacteria to accumulate on the tampon and when the tampon is eventually removed, it may cause abrasions or breaks in the skin inside the vagina, allowing the bacteria to enter into your bloodstream to cause TSS.”

What are the symptoms of TSS?

While TSS symptoms vary, commonly the infection can set off a sudden high fever, chills, low blood pressure, stomach pain, nausea, headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle aches, fatigue, and disorientation. Another key indicator of TSS may be a skin rash which Kirdar had, but dismissed as being nothing serious. Her doctors said it was likely her body’s first sign of infection. “I had no idea what the [TSS] symptoms were and I had no idea that the absorbency level of a tampon had anything to do with increasing one’s risk of getting TSS,” expressed Kirdar.

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