• Can sap from the oleander tree harm your eyes?


    Question:

    If sap from the yellow oleander tree (Thevetia peruviana), also known as the Be-still tree, gets into the eye, can it cause blindness or other serious problems?


    Answer:

    I hope you don’t have this sap in your eye and are waiting by your computer for my answer, as you should see an ophthalmologist or visit the closest emergency room immediately.

    The yellow oleander is a very toxic member of this group of plants and can be extremely harmful to humans, especially children, dogs, and many other animals, though there are some birds that are immune to its toxic effects. Most of the literature about this plant address its effects on the heart and circulation where it can cause digitalis-like overdose symptoms and death. Children are amazingly susceptible to this toxicity and death can be common in that age group.

    The yellow oleander does produce a sap, which can be very toxic to the skin and to the surface of the eye. In the eye it can cause loss of the corneal epithelium cells (surface cells on the cornea, the clear window to the eye), producing extreme pain, severe eye inflammation, pain and light sensitivity that can be slow to heal. This can cause corneal scarring and possible permanent visual problems. When you get toxic agents in your eye, you should flush the eye with lot of clean water immediately. In cases of severe chemical exposure like this, continue flushing the eye with water until you can get emergency help. You may have to force your eyelids open to do this, as your natural reflex is to squeeze your eye(s) closed. Certainly, such an event as this requires the services of an ophthalmologist as soon as possible.


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