Molly Pawlett, a 14-year-old teenager, was about to die.
As reported by Good Housekeeping, the teen learned for herself the serious health risk that many women casually overlook each and every month.
As Pawlett headed to bed that night, she decided to leave her tampon in. But what she expected to be a normal, peaceful night's sleep turned into a real-life nightmare. She awoke with a feeling of discomfort and went to her sleeping mother for help. When her mom noticed a strange red rash covering her daughter's body, she took her to the hospital immediately.
"At first I assumed Molly had a bug, but for some reason I had strange feeling it was something more serious," mother Sonia Pawlett said.
A diagnosis she never thought she'd get
Doctors diagnosed Molly with toxic shock syndrome, a life-threatening complication involving certain bacterial infections. Often, it results from toxins produced by Staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria, but the condition may also be caused by toxins produced by group A streptococcus (strep) bacteria, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Luckily, the teen got to the hospital in time, but if she had ignored her symptoms, her case could have ended tragically.
“A lot of the mothers I met at the hospital had heard of toxic shock but weren’t aware of any of the symptoms which is really dangerous."
Toxic shock syndrome is primarily associated with the use of tampons - usually the superabsorbent kind. The longer you wear a tampon, the higher your risk for TSS. Most tampon box warning labels recommend you never wear a tampon for longer than eight hours.
Though TSS commonly affects women, the bacterial infection can also afflict men and children, usually caused by infected insect bites, open wounds, piercings, surgery, etc.
According to WebMD, the most frequent symptoms of TSS are flu-like:
Low blood pressure
Kidney problems or failure
Respiratory problems or failure
While these symptoms can be signs of other health problems as well, they are big red flags of TSS, especially if you've been wearing a tampon.
TSS is a medical emergency. If you are experiencing the above symptoms while (particularly while wearing a tampon), the best thing to do is remove the tampon right away and go to the nearest hospital.
Some people diagnosed with TSS have to stay in intensive care for several days, according to healthline. Doctors usually prescribe an antibiotic to help the body fight its bacterial infection, medication to regulate your blood pressure, fluids to help combate dehydration and injections to help support your body's immune system.
The most important tampon safety precaution you can take is to change your tampon every four to eight hours. Never leave one in for more than eight hours, and avoid sleeping while wearing a tampon if you can. The longer you leave the tampon in, the higher the risk of getting a bacterial infection.
It's essential to choose tampons with the appropriate absorbency. Using a size too large for your needs also increases your chance of TSS. Do your best to match your tampon size (light, regular, super, etc.) to your flow.
3. Use other options
Most store-bought tampons contain chemicals for scent, shape and absorption which can cause other complications. If you want to stay on the absolute safe side, use pads, menstrual cups or other female sanitation options instead of tampons.
Many women don't read the fine print on their tampon boxes, but should. Spreading awareness about TSS is incredibly important - it could be the difference between life or death.
Adriana Acosta studied communication, is the mother of a teenager, and is currently engaged in teaching and research on a university level in Puerto Vallarta. She publishes his writings in hopes to help people.