Why Do Doctors Warn Against Using a Wire BBQ Grill? – Deseret News

The barbecued chicken was probably the best Peter Richards ever tasted — a hearty feast cooked by his wife Lindsey that even the kids gobbled down. He joked to Greta, then 3, that if she didn’t finish the three schnitzels she’d grabbed, he would.

She gave him the third piece and he did just that, but when he swallowed it, he felt like he hadn’t chewed it enough. Only it was more painful than that. Maybe it was a bone splinter, he thought, so he googled how to get that out.

Eat a slice of bread. Swallow a banana. Nothing helped. Swallowing hurt so much that it kept him awake all night.

He told the story to the Deseret News a year after the event.

Richards, who runs an energy consulting firm and lives in Wrightsville, Pennsylvania, dropped the kids off at school in the morning and then went to his doctor. He couldn’t find a cause for his pain and sent him to the emergency room for scans.

The perpetrator was clearly visible on the x-ray: there was a thin piece of wire stuck in his throat. It was a bristles from a metal brush used to clean the barbecue.

Richards would soon learn that his journey—which included three surgeries in four days and a feeding tube just in case—wasn’t so unusual. A study in the journal Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery found that about 1,700 people visited an emergency room for just such an injury between 2002 and 2014. It’s believed that more bristles are swallowed, but they pass harmlessly. And sometimes people are able to pick them up themselves.

Most injuries are to the mouth or throat. But the stiff metal bristles can perforate almost any part of the digestive tract, causing life-threatening injuries including intestinal obstructions, perforations and infections.

Dr. Meghan Martin, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, told Today about a case she treated: a young boy who complained of excruciating pain in his ear. It took multiple exams by multiple doctors before it was discovered that he had a piece of grill brush wire embedded so deeply in his tonsil tissue that it couldn’t be seen on exam. That required a scan.

In fact, it may take several days for symptoms to manifest, long after a meal prepared on the grill is no longer considered a potential source of misery.

Some experts advise against using grill brushes; others say that you should at least be very careful: clean your grill often to avoid buildup and check afterward for any bristles. The other piece of advice is to make sure you throw away a grill brush if it shows signs of wear.

As for Richards, it was during a third operation using live X-rays that the brush was successfully removed. The surgeon told him that he had had a similar case where the patient’s esophagus had been badly damaged.

After his surgeries, Richards was on a liquid diet, then switched to soft foods. He has since recovered well. But the Richardses no longer use wire brushes to clean their grill. “A half an onion or a potato works surprisingly well,” he said. A pumice stone leaves a bit of powder that you can brush off. Recently, he used a bamboo spatula to scrape the grill clean.

They all survived surgery, pain and a hospital bill.

An X-ray shows a wire brush from a grill brush lodged in the throat of Peter Richards of Wrightsville, Pennsylvania. | Photo of the Richards family

Common summer hazards

As you head out into the sun, it’s a good idea to keep a few other summer risks in mind. Some of the most common include:

  • Food poisoning is one of the biggest spoilers of summer fun. Poor hand washing, not cleaning cooking and eating areas, undercooking food, and leaving food out too long can all cause problems. At 90 degrees, leaving food out for an hour can be too long. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of food poisoning include upset stomach, vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, headache, and fever. In severe cases, food poisoning can affect the nervous system, so symptoms like blurred vision, loss of movement, and difficulty swallowing can be very serious.
  • Extreme heat can affect anyone, but children, the elderly and people who are overweight or ill are at particular risk, according to Ready.gov. Signs of serious heat-related illness include extremely high body temperature (above 103 degrees Fahrenheit when taken orally); no sweating but skin that is red, hot and dry; rapid, pounding pulse; and dizziness, confusion or unconsciousness. Less serious signs, which still require attention, include muscle cramps, sweating, fatigue, weakness, nausea, vomiting and fainting.
  • Drowning deaths are increasing in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 4,500 people died from drowning each year between 2020 and 2022. The CDC recommends that people get basic swimming and water safety training. More than half of adults in the U.S. have never had a swimming lesson. It’s also important to fence off pools so children can’t wander in; wear a life jacket when boating, regardless of swimming ability; never drink alcohol while swimming, boating, or doing other water activities or while supervising children who are participating in those activities; and learn CPR, according to the CDC.
  • Insect bites and stings can put a damper on summer fun — and sometimes they’re dangerous. Healthline says signs of an emergency include a rash, low pulse and anaphylactic shock. People who know they’re allergic to insects like bees should keep their medications handy. Avoid West Nile virus by wearing long pants and sleeves and using insect repellent; if possible, stay indoors from dusk to dawn when mosquitoes are active. Severe reactions to insect bites or stings that require medical attention include fever, difficulty breathing, nausea or vomiting, muscle spasms, rapid pulse, swelling of the lips and throat, confusion and unconsciousness. You can usually remove a stinger if it’s stuck, wash the area and apply an ice pack to reduce pain and swelling. Prevention includes wearing hats and clothing that cover you up, wearing neutral colors, avoiding scents like perfume or lotion, covering food and drinks and using insect repellent.
  • Dehydration is a severe loss of fluids, minerals, and salt. You can become dehydrated by not replacing the fluids you sweat out in very hot weather or during strenuous activity. Vomiting and diarrhea can also cause dehydration. Moderate or severe dehydration may require medical attention. According to WebMD, symptoms include thirst, dry or sticky mouth, headache, muscle cramps, low blood pressure, flushed skin, swollen feet, chills, not urinating, very dry skin, and dizziness. It is important to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, which can be a medical emergency. And be aware that children and the elderly may not be aware that they are thirsty or dehydrated.
  • Fireworks injuries are common this time of year. The Consumer Product Safety Commission recorded about 10,200 emergency room visits for fireworks-related injuries in 2022, with more than a quarter involving children 15 and under. The Cleveland Clinic’s list of tips includes using only legal fireworks — and only where it’s legal and safe to do so, meaning use them far away from buildings, onlookers and shrubbery. It’s vital to have water on hand to make sure they’re extinguished after use, too.

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