From the moment puberty begins, girls are taught by their moms the ins and outs of tampon usage. We’re introduced to the different brands available, how to use the applicator, and most importantly, to change our tampon every four hours. We know there is a risk of developing toxic shock syndrome, but understand the risk is rare, so we discard the leaflet that comes with the box, stash a few extra tampons in our purse, and go about our day.
That’s exactly what model and athlete Lauren Wasser did, and it left her without a leg.
In October 2012, Lauren did not feel well, but was on her period, so she chalked it up to menstrual symptoms. By later that evening she was so ill that she could barely stand. After not hearing from her daughter, Lauren’s mother grew concerned and sent the police to her house, where they found Lauren face down on her bedroom floor. She was rushed to the hospital with a fever of 107, had suffered a massive heart attack and her internal organs were shutting down; she was minutes from death. A disease specialist sent her tampon to the lab, which tested positive for Toxic Shock Syndrome.
Lauren was put into a medically induced coma. Her stomach was bloated while she was pumped with liquid to flush out the black toxins running rampant through her body.
“My belly was huge. I had tubes everywhere. I couldn’t speak… It’s the most excruciating pain I’ve ever – I don’t know how to describe it to you.” Lauren told Vice.
Lauren lost her right leg from the knee down from gangrene, a side effect of TSS, as well as the toes on her left foot. She has to have frequent maintenance surgeries, and there is a high probability that Lauren will have to have her right leg amputated later on in life.
“I wanted to kill myself when I got home,” Lauren says of dealing with the psychological aftermath of losing a limb. “It took me a while to figure out if I was still worthy, if I was still pretty.”
She is now an activist working to educate women on the risks of TSS, even with proper tampon use. She hopes to be a catalyst for change in tampon industry, making them safer for women to use.
Toxic Shock Syndrome
Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) is a bacterial infection that results from the toxins produced primarily by Staphylococcus aureus, as well as others, such as group A streptococcus bacteria. Though historically it is associated with super absorbent tampons, you must already be infected by the staph bacteria for TSS to develop, so it can be seen in children, men, and post-menopausal women. (1)(2)
Symptoms of TSS
- Sudden high fever
- Hypotension (low blood pressure)
- Sunburn-like rash, particularly on the palms of hand and soles of feet
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Muscle Aches
- Redness of eyes, throat, and mouth
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Thankfully, we have plenty of alternatives to conventional tampons available that are safer to use and often better for the environment than conventional flow-stopping options.
5 Alternatives to Conventional Tampons
Organic/Natural Pads and Tampons
This is the obvious, no-brainer one. Choosing natural, organic cotton tampons means avoiding the plastics and rayons in traditional brands that are a breeding ground for bad bacteria. Using pads instead of tampons poses no risk of developing TSS.
The downside to pads? They produce a ton of waste, can’t be worn while swimming, and can be downright uncomfortable – any woman who has ever worn a pad on a hot summer day can attest to this one. Be sure to choose organic, as cotton is considered one of the dirtiest crops in the world for pesticide and insecticide use. (3)
These are reusable, soft-sided cups that fit inside the vagina. The most popular brand is the Divacup. Women who use them swear by them. They are fantastic for the environment and your wallet, needing only to be replaced about once a year. Menstrual cups provide twelve-hour protection from leaks and odors and are easy to insert, once you get the hang of it. (4)
Made with a waterproof liner to prevent blood from leaking onto your clothing, cloth pads are safe and reliable. They are reusable, but require washing. Some brands have the option of changing just an insert instead of the whole pad, however, there is the hurdle of what to do with the used pad while going about your day. After all, there isn’t exactly a good place to store used pads at the office.
Try one of these brands of cloth pads.
A sea sponge is just as it sounds – a porous sponge that grows in the ocean. It’s a renewable resource that can last up to six months and conforms to the shape of your vagina. You have to clean it before your first use to be sure no sand or sea remnants remain, and they are messy to remove. (5)
Try one of these brands of sea sponge tampons.
Underwear designed to replace panty liners, period panties come in thong, cheeky, and hip hugger. Some brands are only meant as a backup to replace a panty liner, and some are designed for heavier flow. They boast about allowing you peace of mind, as they never slip like traditional liners, however you have to rinse them before washing to prevent blood from staining the rest of your laundry. (6)
Try one of these brands of period panties.
(1) Toxic shock syndrome. (2014, May 08). Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/toxic-shock-syndrome/basics/definition/con-20021326
(2) Toxic Shock Syndrome. (2013, June 05). Retrieved from http://www.primehealthchannel.com/toxic-shock-syndrome.html#Toxic_Shock_Syndrome_Risk_Factors
(3) Rodale Institute. (2014, February 4). Dig Deeper: Chemical Cotton. Retrieved from http://rodaleinstitute.org/chemical-cotton/
(4) Fertility Friday. (2017, January 17). 7 Things No One Tells You About Using Menstrual Cups. Retrieved from http://fertilityfriday.com/7-things-no-one-tells-you-about-using-menstrual-cups/
(5) Vitto, L. (2015, July 19). We tried menstrual sponges, and you should too. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2015/07/19/menstrual-sponge-review/#h5N_ZYNWLaqr
(6) Burton, S. (2015, July 29). I Tried These Period Panties So You Don’t Have To. Retrieved from https://www.buzzfeed.com/sarahburton/i-reached-menstrual-zen?utm_term=.afagRqb9J#.qvXelwVMr
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