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Protect Your Eyes When Popping the Cork

Doctor Prescribes a Safe Way to Open Champagne So You Don't Start 2009 in the ER
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Dec. 31, 2008 -- Chilling the bubbly to toast 2009 at the stroke of midnight? Ophthalmologist Andrew Iwach, MD, doesn't mean to be a killjoy, but he also doesn't want to see you head for the hospital with an eye injury from a flying cork.

"Believe it or not, there are hundreds of cases in the United States each year," and most occur in the home around the holidays, Iwach tells WebMD.

Keeping your eyes safe doesn't mean a teetotaling evening. "We want people to enjoy their holiday drinks, but just to do it carefully," says Iwach, who is the executive director of the Glaucoma Center of San Francisco and a spokesman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

"You think, 'How much damage can a little cork do?' Well actually, it can do a lot of damage because of the amount of pressure that can build up in a champagne bottle," Iwach says.

He explains that the amount of pressure in a champagne bottle is equal to the pressure inside the tires of a double-decker bus, and releasing that pressure suddenly turns the cork into a "high-velocity projectile" that can fly at speeds up to 50 miles per hour.

Opening a Champagne Bottle

Here are Iwach's tips for uncorking champagne or sparkling wine:

  • Keep the bottle chilled below 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Don't shake the bottle.
  • Don't use a corkscrew.
  • Don't use your thumbs to pop out the cork.
  • Cover the bottle with a towel and hold the cork as you gently rotate the bottle back and forth. The cork will gradually ease out.

And forget about the dramatic pop.

"You're going to hear a pop, but when you have a big pop, what that means is you've had an explosive event, and what's on the other side of that explosion is the cork," Iwach says. "You've now created a projectile ... it doesn't have a guidance system."

Besides immediately injuring the eye, Iwach says the shock waves created when a cork hits the eye can make glaucoma more likely in that eye years later -- and glaucoma can cause permanent vision loss.

"The good news is that as long as we can see these patients in a timely fashion, then there's so many things we can do to help these patients preserve their vision," says Iwach, who recommends seeing an ophthalmologist, even if you first have to go to the ER for your eye injury.

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