The internet is full of information about bleached and cotton tampons and the potential risk of developing toxic shock syndrome (TSS). But what about sea sponges, do they carry the same risk?
In this post, we’re going to explore what TSS is and it’s symptoms, the treatments available, and how to use a sea sponge safely to reduce your risk of TSS.
What Is Toxic Shock Syndrome and How Can I Get It?
According to the NHS, TSS is a rare, but life-threatening, condition which is caused by bacteria entering the body through the bloodstream and releasing harmful toxins.
TSS can be caused by two different types of bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus (Staph) or Streptococcus (Strep).
Both men and women can get Staph and Strep. The bacteria can live on people’s skin, nose, and mouth, without ever causing harm. The bacteria can also live happily in the vagina without causing a problem. However, whilst using a tampon, sponge, or menstrual cup, the object becomes filled with blood. This then becomes an ideal place for bacteria to multiply.
If left in the body for too long, there is a small chance that the bacteria will enter the bloodstream and release toxins into the body, which then begin to damage internal organs, such as the liver, lungs, and kidneys.
The NHS explains that a third of all cases of TSS occur in women under 19, and up to 30% of women who have had the infection will get it again.
What Are The Signs Of Toxic Shock Syndrome?
Symptoms of period-related TSS always develop once the period has begun and usually appear around day 3-5 in women who are using tampons, sponges, or menstrual cups.
Symptoms can feel as though you have the flu and can quickly become worse. It’s vital to seek medical attention if you’ve been wearing an internal product on your period and experience one or more of these symptoms,
- Flu-like symptoms, ie: headache, feel cold or tired, aching body, or a sore throat.
- Experience coughing.
- Feeling sick or nauseous.
- A widespread sunburn rash, burn, or boil on your skin.
- Having diarrhoea.
- Your lips, tongue and/ or the white of your eyes turn red.
- Having breathing difficulties.
- Experiencing confusion.
- Having seizures
- Low blood pressure.
If you think you may have TSS, remove your sponge, tampon, or cup straight away and contact your doctor. Make sure you tell the doctor that you’ve been wearing internal menstrual protection.
Can Toxic Shock Syndrome Be Treated?
TSS can be treated in a few ways depending on how ill you become. Your doctor may recommend,
- Antibiotics to treat the infection.
- A blood transfusion.
- Oxygen to help you breathe.
- Medicine to control your blood pressure.
- In severe cases, doctors may decide to use surgery to remove dead tissue or amputate the affected area, such as your arm or leg.
Healing from TSS can take anywhere from a couple of days to several months.
How Can I Use Sea Sponges Safely and Reduce My Chances Of Toxic Shock Syndrome?
There are things you can do to lower your chances of getting TSS if you choose to use a sea sponge for period protection.
Don’t just buy any sponge and start using it as a menstrual product. There are over 5,000 different varieties of sponges, but only 15 are sold for personal care use. Out of those 15, only 2 are suitable for menstruation due to their density, texture, and absorbency. These varieties are called Silk sponges.
Silk sponges that are harvested from the Mediterranean sea or in the Caribbean can be worn in the vagina. The sponges grow on the bottom of the ocean and, therefore, may contain bits of shell, sand, seaweed, dirt, and sand. Before the sponges are sold they are cleaned and, although not sterile, women use them as period protection.
If you’ve had TSS in the past, check with your doctor before you start using a sponge.
When using a sea sponge you can reduce your chances of TSS by,
- Using the lowest absorbency sponge for your cycle.
- Wash your hands before inserting the sponge.
- Follow the instructions that arrive with your sea sponge.
- Make sure to regularly change your sponge, around 4-8 hours is a good benchmark.
- Wash your sponge between uses.
- Alternate between a sponge and a pad or period pants. For example, you may wish to use a sea sponge during the day and then a pair of period pants through the night.
- Always remove the sponge when your period has stopped.
- After removing the sponge, if you think a small piece may be left inside you, always contact your doctor or attend the hospital to get it removed.
- Replace your sponge when it begins to fray.
Wrapping It Up
TSS is a rare, but life-threatening, condition which is caused by bacteria entering the body through the bloodstream and releasing toxins. TSS often begins with flu-like symptoms and can quickly progress.
Girls and women have an increased risk of developing TSS by using an internal product for their period, such as a sea sponge, menstrual cup, or tampon. However, there are things women can do to lower their likelihood of developing TSS, including washing their hands before inserting and regularly changing their period product.
If you think you may have any of the symptoms of TSS, it’s important that you seek medical help straight away.
Rebekah Is A Women’s Health & Wellness Freelance Writer And A Social Media Manager.