Toxic Shock Syndrome: Treatment and Prevention

Medically Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on April 23, 2023
3 min read

Toxic shock syndrome (also called “TSS”) is a rare but serious condition that affects many systems in your body at once. It is caused when your immune system reacts to toxins produced by bacteria. It’s serious, but with the right treatment, it’s also curable.

Because this condition can be life-threatening, your doctor will probably send you to a hospital to get treatment.

At the hospital, doctors can keep an eye on your condition as they treat the toxic shock syndrome and the symptoms it’s causing. You may have to stay there for a few days or longer, depending on how severe your case is.

Before choosing a treatment for you, your doctor will need to examine you to find out more about:

  • Your age and medical history
  • Your recent health history, including what might be causing your TSS
  • What kind of symptoms you’re having
  • How serious your symptoms are
  • How you react to certain medications or treatments

Your doctor may have to run tests or collect tissue or blood samples in order to figure out the specific treatments that will work for you. You may need:

This is the most common way doctors treat TSS. Antibiotics will help stop the bacteria from growing in your system. They do not get rid of the toxins that have already built up in your body. The type of antibiotic you get depends on which kind of bacteria is causing your TSS.

If your TSS is very severe, your doctor may try to treat it with immunoglobulin. Immunoglobulin is a part of blood plasma that has antibodies. You get it through an IV. Immunoglobulin therapy can help boost your body’s defense systems against infection.

You may also need treatment for the symptoms of TSS, such as:

Depending on what caused your TSS, your doctor may also want to:

  • Take out any tampons or other contraceptive devices you may be using
  • Clean any wounds you have
  • Drain pus from any infected areas

If you have an infection that is very severe, you may have to have surgery to remove dead tissue and deep clean your wound to get rid of all of it.

TSS is rare. You’re unlikely to get it if you’ve never had it. But once you get it, you’re at a higher risk of getting it again. You can take these steps to keep your chances as low as possible:

  • If you get a wound, keep it clean, dry, and bandaged. Make sure to change your bandages regularly.
  • Any time you see signs of infection in a wound -- redness, swelling, pain, fever -- tell your doctor as soon as possible so it can be treated.

Be careful when you use tampons, diaphragms, or contraceptive sponges. All three carry some risk of TSS. If you’ve had TSS before, or if you’ve had a serious bacterial infection, you’re at a greater risk of getting TSS, and shouldn’t use them at all.

Because of improved designs, the risk of getting TSS from tampons is much lower than it used to be. But it’s still important to practice good tampon hygiene. To use tampons safely and reduce your risk of TSS, you should:

  • Use the lowest absorbency tampon you can
  • Change your tampon frequently -- every 4 to 6 hours, or more often, depending on your flow
  • Use pads on light flow days
  • Don’t use tampons when you don’t have your period
  • Keep your tampon box in a cool, dry place to keep bacteria from growing
  • Always wash your hands before putting a tampon in, or taking one out