December 30, 2013

Vanderbilt ophthalmologist warns about dangers of champagne corks

In the holiday movie classic “A Christmas Story,” every adult in young Ralphie’s life has one warning about his desired present, a BB gun: “Careful or you’ll shoot your eye out.”

Vanderbilt eye doctors have a similar caution for adults who are planning to be popping champagne corks on New Year’s Eve.

“Eye injuries from flying champagne corks, especially around the holidays, are fairly common,” said Mark Melson, M.D., assistant professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the Vanderbilt Eye Institute. “Champagne is part of the holidays, but opening the bottles properly might save some folks a trip to the emergency room or a visit to their eye doctor.

“It might be cool to have the cork pop and it’s exciting to have champagne gush from the bottle, but it’s not fun to suffer an eye injury that may prove to be devastating.”

Melson, who specializes in oculoplastic reconstructive surgery and neuro-ophthalmology, said the pressure from a champagne cork can be up to three times more than the pressure in a car’s tire. And champagne or sparkling wine corks can travel at speeds up to 50-60 miles per hour.

“That is a lot of force to the eye,” said Melson. “The damage can range from corneal abrasions to retinal detachment. The best advice if someone does suffer an eye injury is to seek medical attention immediately. Do not manipulate the eye in any way.”

Those suffering from eye-related cork injuries might experience severe eye pain, discharge of fluid from the eye, loss of vision, flashes of light, floaters or specs in the eye as well as the feeling that a curtain or shadow is covering their vision.

Melson, along with the American Academy of Ophthalmology, suggests the following tips for proper champagne opening:

•         Make sure the bottle of bubbly is chilled. If left warm the pressure is more likely to build.
•         Don’t shake the bottle. This only increases the speed of the cork upon opening.
•         Place a towel over the top of the bottle to provide an additional shield.
•         Keep the bottle tilted at a 45-degree angle, pointing away from people.
•         Hold the cork while twisting the bottle to break the seal. Keep your hand over the cork.
•         Never use a corkscrew to open a bottle of champagne. It will only serve as a larger, more dangerous projectile.

“People often have a delayed response because of impaired judgment,” said Melson. “And if treated in an appropriate fashion, we can prevent vision loss and permanent eye damage.

“I would recommend that people be as responsible as possible and just think about what you are doing before popping the cork. It’s one thing for the cork to hit the ceiling, but you can’t always control where that cork goes.”