QUESTION: Is touching oleander poisonous? I know it’s poisonous if eaten but am not sure whether it can make you sick if you touch it. — Martha F.
ANSWER: While touching oleander does not cause the potentially fatal effects that ingestion does, it can cause some negative effects. Just so you’re informed about how poisonous ingesting oleander is, know that consuming just one oleander leaf can kill an adult. The reaction to touching oleander is not that serious, but does have some toxicity effects that we’ll explain here.
Touching an oleander plant can result in skin irritation, particularly if your skin comes into contact with the sap inside the plant. There are precautions you should take when working with your oleander plants to avoid skin irritation.
Especially when pruning an oleander plant, you should wear gardening gloves to keep your skin safe. Then wash your hands immediately after you’re done working with the oleander.
Even your gardening tools should be cleaned and sterilized after being used on oleander. Soak any tools you used on the oleander plant in a mixture of half water and half alcohol. Let your tools sit in this mixture for five minutes. Then rinse them with clear running water and let them air dry.
Do not burn any part of the oleander plant, because the smoke can cause irritation to both eyes and lungs. You should also not use oleander in your compost heap. Put the clippings in a bag to keep them out of contact with people and animals, then throw them away.
Do not underestimate the toxicity of oleander when ingested. As we’ve mentioned, eating just one leaf can kill an adult. Just consuming a small piece of a leaf can be fatal, as can using the stems as skewers for food. Even honey made from oleander flowers is poisonous.
Oleander is poisonous because it contains two cardiac glycosides called oleandroside and nerioside. These dangerous compounds are present throughout the entire plant, from flowers and branches to seeds, flowers, and even the nectar in flowers. (Children have died simply from chewing on an oleander leaf or from sucking the nectar from the flowers.)
Symptoms of oleander poisoning due to ingestion include diarrhea, dizziness, irregular heartbeat, nausea, serious stomach pain, vomiting, and weakness. The pupils of the eyes may also be dilated if oleander has been consumed. The most serious symptoms include respiratory paralysis, coma, and even death. Contact your doctor if you believe someone has oleander poisoning.
In addition to being poisonous to humans, oleander is also toxic to pets. Symptoms of ingestion in animals include colic, diarrhea which may contain blood, difficulty breathing or shallow breathing, loss of coordination, and sweating. Animals that have consumed oleander may have muscle tremors or not be able to stand up. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you suspect your pet has consumed oleander.
Oleander is a gorgeous plant, but because it is so toxic, we do not recommend growing it in households with children or pets. Some people find the risk outweighs the benefits even in households made up solely of adults.
After reading this article, you know all about oleander poisoning by ingestion and the skin irritation that can result from handling. You’ve learned how to safely work with your oleander plants, too. If you choose to grow oleander despite its toxicity, make sure to follow the guidelines we provided on how to handle oleander plants safely.