What Is Oleander Poisoning

  • Ayesha JamilBachelors of Biomedical Sciences with Honors - University of Nottingham, Malaysia


Oleander poisoning is a serious medical condition resulting from exposure to the toxic chemicals present in the leaves, flowers, and stems of the oleander plant (Nerium oleander). This evergreen shrub, native to Mediterranean regions, is cultivated for its ornamental beauty and is commonly found in gardens, parks, and landscapes throughout the United Kingdom.1

Definition of oleander poisoning

Oleander poisoning refers to the harmful effects caused by the ingestion, inhalation, or skin contact with the toxic components of the oleander plant. Oleander contains cardiac glycosides, such as oleandrin and digitoxigenin, which can have damaging effects on the heart, nervous system, and various organs if absorbed into the body.1

Common sources of oleander poisoning

Oleander poisoning most commonly occurs when individuals mistakenly consume parts of the oleander plant, either accidentally or with the intent to harm oneself or others. Ingesting any part of the oleander plant, including the leaves, flowers, bark, or stems, can lead to poisoning. Additionally, burning oleander wood or inhaling its smoke can also result in toxic exposure. It is important to note that even small amounts of oleander can be highly toxic and potentially fatal.2

Importance of understanding oleander poisoning

Understanding the dangers associated with oleander poisoning is crucial for both the general public and medical professionals. Adequate knowledge about oleander poisoning can help individuals recognize potential sources of exposure, take appropriate precautions, and seek immediate medical assistance in case of ingestion or exposure. Additionally, medical practitioners should be aware of the symptoms and treatment options to provide prompt and effective care in emergency situations.

What is oleander?

Oleander, also known as Nerium oleander, is an evergreen shrub that is native to the Mediterranean region. It is highly regarded for its beautiful flowers, which bloom in various colors such as white, pink, and red. However, it is important to note that while oleander is aesthetically pleasing, it is also highly toxic.2

The toxicity of oleander can be attributed to the presence of various cardiac glycosides, including oleandrin and nerium. These compounds can negatively affect the heart, leading to symptoms such as irregular heart rhythms, low blood pressure, and even cardiac arrest.3

It is crucial to handle oleander with caution as all parts of the plant, including the flowers, leaves, stems, and even the sap, contain toxic substances. Ingesting any part of the plant can lead to severe poisoning, which can be fatal if not treated promptly.

Symptoms of oleander poisoning

If someone has ingested or come into contact with oleander, it is important to be aware of the potential symptoms of oleander poisoning. The symptoms can vary depending on the amount of exposure and the person's overall health.4

Following is a list of symptoms that manifest after the ingestion of the toxins:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea

In addition to gastrointestinal symptoms, oleander poisoning can affect the cardiovascular system lading to the manifestation of the following:

  • Arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat rhythms)
  • Bradycardia (Slowed heartbeat)
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Shortness of breath

Respiratory symptoms can also manifest in cases of oleander poisoning. Inhaling the smoke from burning oleander plants can irritate the respiratory tract and lead to the following:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Respiratory distress
  • Respiratory failure

In some instances, oleander poisoning may result in neurological symptoms. These can include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Muscle weakness
  • Trembling

Causes of oleander poisoning

Oleander poisoning can occur when individuals come into contact with the various parts of the oleander plant. The toxic compounds found in oleander, including cardiac glycosides, are responsible for its poisonous effects.5

Ingesting any part of the oleander plant can lead to poisoning, as the toxins can be rapidly absorbed by the body. Accidental ingestion may occur in children who are attracted to the vibrant colors of the flowers or in pets that have access to oleander growing in gardens or outdoor areas.5

In addition to ingestion, oleander poisoning can also occur through inhalation or skin contact. When oleander leaves or stems are burned, they release toxic fumes that can be inhaled, causing respiratory distress. Direct skin contact with oleander can result in dermatitis or irritation.5

It's worth noting that even the water in which oleander flowers have been soaked can contain toxic compounds, so caution should be exercised when handling them.

It's crucial to understand that oleander poisoning is not limited to humans and pets. Livestock, such as cows or horses, may accidentally consume oleander if it is present in their grazing area or in contaminated feed.

Treatment and first aid

Immediate actions to take in case of oleander poisoning

Oleander poisoning can be a serious medical emergency, and prompt action is crucial. If you suspect someone has ingested or come into contact with oleander, follow these immediate steps:

1. Call emergency services (999 or 112)

Begin by calling for emergency medical assistance. Provide the operator with all necessary details, such as the person's age, weight, and any symptoms they are experiencing. Mention that you suspect oleander poisoning.

2. Do not wait for symptoms

Even if the person appears fine or shows only mild symptoms, do not wait for the situation to worsen. Oleander toxicity can have delayed effects, so it's essential to seek medical attention promptly.

3. Avoid further exposure

If the poisoning occurred through contact with the plant, ensure that no one else touches it. Use gloves or a cloth to handle the affected person to prevent further contamination.

4. Do Not Attempt Home Remedies

Refrain from trying home remedies or inducing vomiting, as these actions can potentially worsen the situation. It's best to leave treatment to medical professionals.

5. Keep the person calm and still

Encourage the affected person to remain calm and lie still while awaiting medical help. This can help reduce the spread of toxins in the body.

Seeking medical help and contacting poison control

After taking immediate actions, the next crucial steps involve seeking professional medical assistance and contacting poison control:

1. Go to the nearest hospital

Transport the affected person to the nearest hospital as quickly as possible. It's essential to let healthcare providers assess the severity of the poisoning and administer appropriate treatment.

2. Contact poison control

In the United Kingdom, you can reach the National Poisons Information Service (NPIS) by calling 111. Provide them with details about the suspected oleander exposure, the person's condition, and any first aid measures taken.

3. Be Prepared with information

When speaking to healthcare professionals or poison control, be prepared to provide information such as the person's age, weight, the quantity of oleander ingested or contact with the plant, and any symptoms observed.

Specific treatments available for oleander poisoning

Once at the hospital, healthcare providers will initiate treatment tailored to the individual's condition. Treatment may include:

  1. Gastric lavage (Stomach Pumping): In some cases, if ingestion occurred recently, healthcare providers may perform gastric lavage to remove any remaining oleander plant material from the stomach
  2. Activated charcoal: Activated charcoal may be administered to help absorb the toxins and prevent their further absorption into the bloodstream
  3. Supportive care: Oleander poisoning can affect various organ systems. Healthcare providers will provide supportive care, such as intravenous fluids, to maintain hydration and address any specific symptoms
  4. Medications: Medications may be given to manage symptoms like irregular heart rhythms. In severe cases, antidotes may be used, but these are not always available
  5. Observation: After initial treatment, the person will likely be observed in the hospital for several hours to ensure there are no delayed or worsening symptoms

Remember that oleander poisoning can be life-threatening, and professional medical assistance is critical. It is always safer to assume the worst and seek immediate help if there is any suspicion of oleander exposure. Timely intervention can greatly improve the chances of a positive outcome.

Prevention and safety measures

Educating yourself about oleander plant

It is essential to be well-informed about the oleander plant to prevent accidental exposure and poisoning. Here are some key points to consider:

  • Identification: Learn how to identify oleander plants. They are typically shrubs or small trees with long, lance-shaped leaves and showy clusters of flowers. Oleander flowers can be pink, red, white, or yellow and have a distinctive, pleasant fragrance
  • Common locations: Oleanders are often found in gardens, parks, and public spaces. Be aware of their presence in your surroundings, especially if you have children or pets
  • Toxic parts: Understand that all parts of the oleander plant are toxic if ingested or if their sap comes into contact with the skin. Even smoke from burning oleander can be harmful
  • Safe distance: Ensure that oleander plants are kept at a safe distance from areas where children and pets play. Consider removing them if you have concerns about accidental exposure

Ensuring proper handling and disposal of oleander

Proper handling and disposal of oleander plants are essential to minimize the risk of poisoning:

  1. Wear protective gear: When handling oleander plants, wear gloves and long sleeves to protect your skin from contact with the toxic sap
  2. Pruning and trimming: If you need to trim or prune oleander plants, do so with caution. Use sharp, clean tools, and work on a dry day to reduce the spread of sap. Dispose of trimmings carefully
  3. Bag and seal: Place all pruned material and plant clippings in a sealed plastic bag. This prevents the release of sap and ensures safe disposal
  4. Do not burn oleander: Never burn oleander trimmings or plant material. Inhaling the smoke can be toxic and harmful to your respiratory system
  5. Dispose at hazardous waste facilities: Contact your local waste management authority for guidance on how to dispose of oleander safely. It's crucial to treat oleander as hazardous waste

Supervising children and pets around oleander plants

Children and pets are curious by nature, making it vital to take precautions when they are near oleander plants:

  1. Teach awareness: Educate children about the dangers of oleander and discourage them from touching or playing near these plants
  2. Secure fencing: If you have oleander in your garden, consider installing secure fencing to create a barrier between children or pets and the plants
  3. Pet supervision: Always supervise pets when they are outdoors, especially if oleander is present in your garden or the surrounding area
  4. Training: Train dogs to avoid contact with oleander plants, and discourage them from chewing on leaves or flowers
  5. Be vigilant: Regularly inspect your garden or outdoor spaces for any fallen oleander leaves or flowers, as these can pose a risk if ingested by pets

By educating yourself about oleander, practicing safe handling and disposal, and closely supervising children and pets, you can help prevent oleander poisoning and create a safer environment for your loved ones. Remember that oleander's beauty hides a potentially deadly threat, so caution and awareness are key.


Oleander poisoning is a serious risk due to the toxic compounds in oleander plants. Understanding its definition and dangers is vital for everyone. It results from exposure to toxic oleander plant parts and can be lethal.

Oleander contains cardiac glycosides that harm the heart, nervous system, and organs when absorbed. Poisoning typically occurs via ingestion, inhalation, or skin contact with oleander. Even small amounts can be dangerous, and burning oleander is toxic too.

Recognizing exposure sources and symptoms is crucial for the public and medical professionals. Knowledge empowers individuals to take precautions and seek medical aid promptly. Symptoms vary but may include nausea, vomiting, heart irregularities, respiratory issues, and neurological effects.

Ingestion, inhalation, or contact with any oleander part can lead to poisoning. This includes children drawn to the plant's vibrant flowers and pets in oleander-rich environments. Oleander poisoning is a medical emergency. Seek immediate assistance, prevent further exposure, and don't use home remedies. Medical care includes gastric lavage, activated charcoal, and supportive measures.

Educating yourself about oleander's appearance and toxicity, Handling and disposing of oleander with care, and supervise children and pets around it are some ways to prevent the poisoning.

By adhering to these guidelines, you can reduce the risk of oleander poisoning and ensure safety for your loved ones. Oleander's beauty shouldn't obscure its peril.


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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Ayesha Jamil

Bachelors of Biomedical Sciences with Honors - University of Nottingham, Malaysia

Ayesha is a passionate graduate who is highly motivated to do her best in all that she tries. functioning in a multicultural university society on campus, she has developed many skills including communication, leadership skills, and developed a strong work ethic to name a few while in university.

She was the course representative for all three of her academic years working closely with the teaching and management staff to ensure the needs and voices of her fellow students were heard as well as the implementation of any new protocol for the students that may have been introduced for them.

She has also undertaken many key roles as well as been a part of the volunteering fellows. She has taken another step towards the future by undertaking an internship with Klarity as a writer for medical articles.

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