Do you own a yucca plant? They’re rather good, you know – they don’t tend to need much water, they contribute a bit of vibrant viridian to an apartment, and, according to the Royal Horticultural Society, they can “add [a] dramatic architectural effect to borders and courtyards with their bold, sword-shaped leaves”. How lovely.
As revealed by a curious study in the journal Clinical Otolaryngology, though, those sword-shaped leaves are doing something rather unintentionally malevolent: they’re causing serious ear injuries, and even making a few people deaf. We apologize for the mental image you may now be experiencing, but we should inform you that this is only going to get worse.
The paper, which describes poor Yucca plants as a form of “garden terror”, explains that there have been at least 28 serious ear injuries caused by the entry of these pointy leaves into people’s ear canals between 2012 and 2017.
As revealed by these horror-show stories – derived from cases that cropped up at Melbourne’s Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital – the popular pot plant has caused three kinds of damage to people’s hearing holes.
Three suffered from an “abrasion of the external ear canal”, which amounts to a nasty scratch. Irritating, but nothing to worry about. Twenty-five, however, were diagnosed with a tympanic membrane perforation (TMP), which is more colloquially known as a ruptured eardrum.
The eardrum is a thin membrane, one that vibrates when it encounters sound waves. These vibrations are transferred to the inner architecture of your ear, which allows you to hear. If it’s pierced by a yucca plant’s leaf, then not only will it hurt, but you’ll suffer from hearing loss – as well as vertigo and related vomiting, in some cases.
Fortunately, the eardrum can heal in a few weeks. Indeed, 21 of the 25 cases of yucca-related TMP were described as “uncomplicated”, and the patients healed quickly.
Four, however, actually managed to get their pokey leaf to break through right into the inner ear. They were diagnosed with a perilymph fistula (PLF), which is when the fluid-filled inner ear and the air-filled middle ear are suddenly connected. PLFs can be caused by a range of things, but the furious frond of a yucca’ll do it.
After some confusion as to what was causing their hearing loss and dizziness, these four patients underwent surgery to fix the problem. It helped, but only a little; their unsteadiness was resolved, but their hearing was left permanently damaged.
Is this type of injury more common than we thought? It’s hard to say – there isn’t exactly an abundance of research on the subject.
“Yucca plant injury to the ear is not widely recognized,” the team noted in their study, adding that “the only other series reported 3 cases in Israel over [a] 7-year period.”
It did make us wonder, though: are there any other similar plant-based injuries out there?
A glance at a 2017 paper focusing on 80 cases of traumatic TMP suggests that hearing loss via plants is pretty unusual. Of these 80, 40 were caused by physical violence, while 32 were triggered by using a Q-tip to clean their ears, something that medical experts never recommend.
Three were thanks to a direct hit onto water while diving, one was when a ball smacked into their ear, and one involved a traffic accident. Three suffered from TMPs while having a plug of earwax removed by a professional, and one – ironically – occurred while the patient was being given a hearing aid.
No plants, though. Don’t fear the yucca, people.
[H/T: ABC Radio]