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Dangers of gettting wires from grill scrubbing brushes stuck in throat or tongue

There's a slew of reports published about people of all ages swallowing tiny wire pieces that broke off unseen from the process of scrubbing grills. You may wish to check out a recent study, "Clinical Perspective. Inadvertent Ingestion of Wire Bristles From a Grill Cleaning Brush: Radiologic Detection of Unsuspected Foreign Bodies," published online since April 2012 in the American Journal of Roentgenology.

The dangers of wire grill brushes.
Photo by Phil Mislinski/Getty Images

Now that the outdoor grilling season is in full practice, people need to be aware than if they suddenly get the sensation of a tiny object stuck in their throats or at the base of their tongues causing painful swallowing or similar sensations, the culprit could be little wire pieces that break off from scrubbing those grills, indoor or outdoor. This possibly also could happen in restaurants, at outdoor events where food is served, or in those supermarket parking lot grills that often grill meats or vegetables and then sell those grilled foods to customers. Or it could happen if food is grilled at events and various celebrations.

What happens is that the grill is scrubbed, but not washed again after the scrubbing is done (in order to catch those tiny wires broken off from the scrubbing process on cloths that can catch those tiny wires). What havoc these wires have caused is that when people suffering from having those wires embedded in tongues or throats go to emergency rooms, it could require several x-rkays, repeated ENT exams of inside the throat, and different types of anesthesias.

Often the problem isn't diagnosed because the wires can't be seen. The cause is grill brushes that are either old or shedding tiny wires onto the grill followed by the cooks not washing and rinsing the grill each time the grill is scrubbed. Even if you buy a new grill brush, the wires on some could still shed when new or at any time, but especially if the grill brush is old. It's better to scrub a grill with an object that can't shed tiny scrubbing wires.

A recent Rhode Island Hospital study identifies the danger of grill brushes

Accidental ingestion of wire bristles has led to the need for surgery. Rhode Island Hospital physicians identified six cases of accidental ingestion of wire grill brush bristles that required endoscopic or surgical removal. The paper calls attention to the need for the public and physicians to be aware of this potential danger.

Researchers report acute onset of either odynophagia or abdominal pain immediately after ingestion of grilled meat in six patients presenting between May 1, 2009, and November 18, 2010, says the study's abstract. In all six patients, radiologic studies revealed a linear metallic foreign body. Careful history revealed cleaning of the grill with a metallic brush immediately before cooking in all six cases. Physicians should be aware of this potential hazard to facilitate accurate and timely diagnosis.

David Grand, M.D., a radiologist in the diagnostic imaging department at Rhode Island Hospital, is the lead author of the paper. Grand explains that six patients were identified within an 18-month period who presented to the emergency department within 24 hours of ingesting grilled meat. Their symptoms were odynophagia (painful swallowing in the mouth or esophagus) or abdominal pain. In the recent paper, Grand he and his colleagues identify a potential health threat of wire grill brushes.

In all cases, a careful history revealed the patients had consumed meat cooked on a grill that was cleaned with a wire brush immediately prior to cooking. Of the patients, three presented with odynophagia as a primary symptom. Two underwent radiography of the neck, which revealed a metallic foreign body [the bristles], while one patient had a computed tomography (CT) scan that identified and localized the bristles within the neck. In all three patients the wires were identified and removed.

The remaining three patients presented with abdominal pain and underwent CT scans. In two patients, the wire perforated the small intestine and in the third, the wire perforated through the stomach and into the liver, and was surrounded by a large hepatic abscess. Surgery was performed in all three patients.

Grand says, according to a March 28, 2012 news release, Rhode Island Hospital study identifies the danger of grill brushes, "Although foreign body ingestion is not a rare complaint in an emergency department, it is striking that in only 18 months we identified six separate episodes of wire bristle ingestion after eating grilled meat. The public should be aware of this potential danger." Grand discusses the study in this YouTube video and comments that he now wipes his own grill with paper towels after using a grill brush as a way to prevent this from happening.

Grand adds, according to the news release, "It is also important for physicians to be aware of this danger and pay close attention to clinical history. In patients presenting with odynophagia, plain radiography may identify the wire bristle; however, CT is helpful for anatomic localization. For patients presenting with abdominal pain, CT is recommended and oral contrast should not be used as it can obscure the foreign body, in this case, wire bristles."

It's important that people find out whether their symptoms are caused by a tiny wire stuck in the throat or the at the back of the tongue or whether they're getting symptoms from eating food sprinkled with MSG, which might cause unusual symptoms such as the feeling of the cheek bones protruding through the face or various throat or neuro-excitory sensations.

If the food wasn't on a grill, pan, or other object scrubbed with a brush that has tiny wires that could have come out or broken off, you'd need to find out what is causing those sensations of an object stuck in the throat. A big problem is when it's misdiagosed. There also are other YouTube videos on news of the wires in the throat issue. See, "BBQ Wire Bristle in Throat." In this video, a teenage boy endured a similar experience.

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