Sajeev Puri, MD

The weather is getting warmer and grilling season is almost upon us. But when you pull out the grill, you should also get rid of your wire-bristle grill brushes. The bristles can fall off when you clean your grill and get stuck in your food, and that can be very dangerous. CEENTA otolaryngologist Sajeev K. Puri, MD talks about what could happen if you swallow a bristle and what safe alternatives you should use instead.

What are the dangers of swallowing a wire bristle?

Wire bristles are very sharp and can get stuck in the throat. If left untreated they can migrate to a vital structure. Bristles can cause a life-threatening injury if they migrate or if swallowed and get to the intestine. They can rupture the wall of the intestine and cause a devastating injury or infection. At times these require immediate surgery to remove.

What does the surgery to remove a wire bristle entail?

This depends on the level of injury. Removing one from the throat is usually an outpatient procedure. For other sites it can be very serious and may require a hospital stay or even an ICU stay.

Wire grill brushes.

How important is it to tell your doctor you may have swallowed a bristle?

Patients sometimes do not report cleaning a grill with a wire bristle when they present with throat or abdominal symptoms. The bristle can be missed if a patient’s history is not adequate, delaying the diagnosis and treatment. These can also be missed on imaging studies unless there is a high level of suspicion. Therefore, it is important to tell your physician that a wire bristle was used recently to clean a grill.

You have had to remove several wire bristles from people’s throats. Is this a common occurrence?

The numbers are very difficult to track because a lot of patients are seen in the ER for a variety of foreign bodies, and bristles are a part of this group.

Could people swallow these bristles and not know it? If they do, is there a chance they could pass harmlessly through you?

Yes, people can swallow them and not have symptoms. I suspect in a lot of cases they pass through without the patient knowing that he/she swallowed the bristle.

What are safe alternatives to using grill brushes with wire bristles?

Grill-cleaning stones and bricks, bristle-free brushes made of metal coils, and grill brushes with nylon bristles are all safe alternatives.

More information is now available at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site.

This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your physician.

This blog originally appeared on Charlotte Smarty Pants, and is reprinted here with their kind permission.


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