London

What it feels like to have a BBQ brush bristle in your throat

​London otolaryngologist Dr. Leigh Sowerby says over the last 10 years, he's operated on three people who had swallowed wire bristles from BBQ brushes.

London doctors have removed at least 4 barbecue wire brush bristles from people's throats

Dr. Leigh Sowerby says metal bristles that break off wire barbecue brushes can be difficult to retrieve if they become lodged in the patient's throat. (CBC)

If you've been scraping off your barbecue grill with the same old brush for years, you might consider replacing it.

The problem is those wire brush bristles. They're falling off and sticking to grills. And without anyone noticing, they're being picked up by food, and people are eating them.

There are at least two reported cases in Canada this month.

Over the last 10 years, London otolaryngologist Dr. Leigh Sowerby has seen three such cases. 

"One was actually sticking right out of a tonsil. That was an easy one to get," said Sowerby, who knows of a fourth case that his colleague treated.

But it's not always so easy.

"Sometimes these bristles can actually migrate into the tissue and then it becomes much more challenging to find. It's like finding a needle in a haystack." He said some cases can even be life-threatening.

"If they're further down in the throat, then we have to put people to sleep and use a metal tube to look down and grab it with small little grasping forcepts."

Dr. Leigh Sowerby says he's operated on three people who had swallowed wire bristles from BBQ brushes. (Kate Dubinski/CBC News)

Sowerby, who still uses a wire bristle barbecue brush himself, said he inspects the grill after each use.

"I do suspect that it may becoming more common, in part because of using cheaper barbecue brushes. My advice would be don't use the dollar store barbecue brush."

He also offered a few brush alternatives such as a mashed up piece of aluminum foil or an onion.

"It's when we use [the brush] for 10 years and it's sitting outside year round, that's when you're going to have the bristles break off."

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