This Spiny Plant Is Sending People to the Emergency Room

Yucca plant
Guard your ears (Image credit: Shutterstock)

The sharp, spiny leaves of the yucca — a trendy plant found in gardens the world over — has caused serious ear injuries that have sent more than two dozen people to the emergency room, a new report from Australia finds.

The report is one of the first of its kind, and drives home the point that bladelike objects don't belong anywhere near the ear, especially if those objects are yucca leaves.

But at least 28 people didn't get that memo, according to the report, which details yucca-related ear injuries that were treated at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital in Australia between 2012 and 2017. [9 Weird Ways Kids Can Get Hurt]

Three of the patients had abrasions on the external ear canal, but the majority of the patients (25 people) had pierced eardrums, known medically as a "tympanic membrane perforation." The eardrums healed quickly in 21 of the patients, although they all experienced temporary hearing loss, the researchers said.

In four of the cases, however, the yucca leaves speared both the eardrum and the inner ear, producing a "perilymphatic fistula." This condition happens when the membranes that divide the air-filled middle ear from the fluid-filled space of the inner ear are torn, allowing perilymph fluid to leak into the middle ear, according to the Vestibular Disorders Association (VEDA), a nonprofit that addresses inner-ear disorders.

Each of these four patients experienced hearing loss, as well as vertigo following their unfortunate run-ins with the yucca leaves. After they were diagnosed (one immediately, and the other three later on), the patients had surgeries to fix the tears, the researchers said.

But the outcome wasn't so rosy. Although the unsteadiness that people initially felt went away, "the hearing remained poor in all patients, with slight improvement postoperatively in one case," the researchers wrote in the study.

It wasn't clear exactly how the leaves ended up in the people's ears, but it's possible that, in an attempt to shield their eyes from the pointy yucca, the patients turned their ears toward the plant, study co-author Dr. Stephen O'Leary, chair of otolaryngology at the University of Melbourne, in Australia, told The Canberra Times.

Though unusual, it's likely that yucca-caused ear damage is underreported, the researchers said. For instance, a 2009 report from Israel, published in the Ear, Nose and Throat Journal, found three ear injuries caused by yucca plants over a period of seven years.

If people get stabbed in the ear by a yucca leaf and start feeling dizzy, they should go directly to the hospital, O'Leary told The Canberra Times.

The new report was published online Dec. 14, 2017 in the journal Clinical Otolaryngology.

Original article on Live Science.

Laura Geggel

Laura is the archaeology and Life's Little Mysteries editor at Live Science. She also reports on general science, including paleontology. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Scholastic, Popular Science and Spectrum, a site on autism research. She has won multiple awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association for her reporting at a weekly newspaper near Seattle. Laura holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and psychology from Washington University in St. Louis and a master's degree in science writing from NYU.