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Elephant ear

Elephant ear plants are indoor or outdoor plants with very large, arrow-shaped leaves. Poisoning may occur if you eat parts of this plant.

This article is for information only. Do NOT use it to treat or manage an actual poison exposure. If you or someone you are with has an exposure, call your local emergency number (such as 911), or your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.

Poisonous Ingredient

The harmful substances in elephant ear plants are:

Note: Leaves and stems are the most dangerous when eaten in large amounts.

Where Found

Elephant ear grows naturally in tropical and subtropical areas. It is also common in northern climates.

Symptoms

Symptoms of elephant ear poisoning are:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Redness, pain, and burning of the eyes
  • Severe burning in the mouth and throat
  • Swelling of the tongue, mouth, and eyes
  • Vomiting

Home Care

Wipe out the mouth with a cold, wet cloth. Wash off any plant sap on the skin. Rinse out the eyes.

Do NOT make the person throw up unless poison control or a health care provider tells you to.

Before Calling Emergency

Have this information ready:

  • Person's age, weight, and condition
  • Part of plant swallowed, if known
  • Time swallowed
  • Amount swallowed

Poison Control

Your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. This national hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.

This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

What to Expect at the Emergency Room

Take the plant with you to the hospital, if possible.

The provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated.

The person may receive:

  • Breathing support, including tube through the mouth into the lungs, and breathing machine (ventilator), in extreme cases only
  • Fluids through the vein (by IV)
  • Medicines to treat symptoms

Outlook (Prognosis)

Most symptoms will disappear within several days to a week if treated correctly.

Rarely, oxalic acid may cause swelling severe enough to block the airways.

References

Graeme K. Toxic plant ingestions. In: Auerbach PS, ed. Wilderness Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2011:chap 64.

Zosel AE. General approach to the poisoned patient. In: Adams JG, ed. Emergency Medicine. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 143.

Update Date 11/4/2015

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