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Be Careful of those Flying Champagne Corks

As this season's football teams celebrated their respective division championships with champagne, with corks flying around the room painting each others' faces with the pressurized spray, I was motivated to warn my readers about avoiding a potentially devastating eye injury. Just three months ago, I received a phone call from one of my office employees. Her brother-in-law had inadvertently gotten struck in his eye by a champagne cork and had lost vision. He was in upstate New York, a few hours away from my office. Because it was Sunday, all the local doctor offices were closed and he could only get treatment in an emergency room. I ran through all the possibilities in my mind. Bleeding inside the eye (anterior chamber hyphema and vitreous hemorrhage), inflammation (uveitis), corneal abrasion, retinal detachment or tear, swollen retina (commotio retina and macular edema), traumatic glaucoma and even a ruptured globe. "What can he see?" I asked. "He sees movement, but not much else," she answered. "How quickly can he get here?" "Two or three hours," she said. While I waited for him to arrive, I did some research. Tamara Fountain, MD, from the American Academy of Ophthalmology has stated that a cork can fly up to 50 miles per hour as it leaves the bottle. And because people are unprepared to get hit, they usually get hit directly in the eye without being able to reflexively close their eyelids. The end of the story is that the young man had a bad, but not blinding injury. Over the past three months, his vision improved to about 60% of normal. But the eye will never again see the way it did. So please follow my advice about the proper technique in opening a champagne bottle:
  1. Make sure sparkling wine is chilled before you open it, since the cork of a warm bottle is more likely to pop unexpectedly.
  2. Don't emulate the athletes by shaking the bottle. Shaking dramatically increases your chances of eye injury.
  3. Hold down the cork with the palm of one hand while removing the wire hood with the other hand.
  4. Point the bottle away from yourself and from any bystanders or nearby walls.
  5. Place a towel over the entire top of the bottle and grasp the cork.
  6. Keep the bottle at a 45-degree angle as you SLOWLY and firmly twist the bottle (not the cork!) while holding the?cork to break the seal. Counter the force of the cork using slight downward pressure just as the?cork breaks free from the bottle.
  7. NEVER use a corkscrew to open a bottle of champagne or sparkling wine!
Paul Krawitz, M.D.

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