Poked by an Agave

Q: I’ve read your previous postings which indicate that cactus thorns are not poisonous. However, my mother had a run-in with our Agave Americana last year, getting poked in the arm. The vein swelled up and within a few days the swelling had gone down. She still has problems with pain. The same cactus got my finger today; 5 hours later it is stiff and sore and pain is radiating up my arm. I used peroxide immediately and an antibiotic ointment but it doesn’t seem to be working. Is there anything you can recommend? <br />
Thank you,<br />
Sondra<br /><br />A: Sondra,<br />
Agave are not cactus, and there is an important difference. But first, let me insist that I am not a doctor, and any lingering pain should be seen by a doctor.<br />
<br />
OK, so Agaves, unlike most cactus, do have a nasty sap in them, that many people will have a reaction to. Whenever you are handling them, transplanting them or pruning leaves, we recommend long sleeves, gloves and eye protection.<br />
<br />
But I think the real problem with them is that the leaf tips – i.e. the spines – are huge and thick and very sharp. They can go in pretty deep and cause real wounds, nerve damage, etc. I know I can have lingering pain from getting poked that’s probably caused by the time it takes for the nerve to heal. (I once had a pinched nerve and it’s the same type of pain).<br />
<br />
Whenever we get punctured by a cactus or agave or other sharp plant, we make sure to remove any spines left behind, wash thoroughly, use a local disinfectant and then we like to apply a topical pain reliever. It is a wound so we watch for signs of infection.<br />
<br />
But if the pain does persist, we also have been known to go see a doctor.<br />
<br />
Hope this helps, and you and your mother get to feeling better.<br />
Peter<br /><br />

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