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Eye doctors warn of champagne: You could poke an eye out with that

Posted Dec. 28, 2012, at 12:19 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 28, 2012, at 3:45 p.m.
Eric Worthley of Portland dons his Society for Creative Anachronism battle gear Friday Dec. 28, 2012, before opening a champagne bottle, but there's an easier way to protect your eyes from flying corks at midnight.
Eric Worthley of Portland dons his Society for Creative Anachronism battle gear Friday Dec. 28, 2012, before opening a champagne bottle, but there's an easier way to protect your eyes from flying corks at midnight. Buy Photo
The American Academy of Ophthalmology issued an announcement this month saying "€œimproper cork-removal techniques cause serious, potentially blinding eye injuries each year."
The American Academy of Ophthalmology issued an announcement this month saying "€œimproper cork-removal techniques cause serious, potentially blinding eye injuries each year." Buy Photo

PORTLAND, Maine — The nation’s top ophthalmologist group has a warning for celebrants planning to pop open a champagne bottle this time of year: It’s all fun and games until someone pokes an eye out.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology issued an announcement this month saying “improper cork-removal techniques cause serious, potentially blinding eye injuries each year.”

Planning to spray the bubbly while “Auld Lang Syne” plays? Be aware of the weapon you’re wielding, the eye doctor group warns.

“Champagne bottles contain pressure as high as 90 pounds per square inch — more than the pressure found inside a typical car tire,” the academy announcement states, in part. “This pressure can launch a champagne cork at 50 miles per hour as it leaves the bottle, which is fast enough to shatter glass. Unfortunately, this is also fast enough to permanently damage vision.”

The list of ailments one might suffer from after a cork-to-the-eye includes a rupture of the eye wall, acute glaucoma, retinal detachment, ocular bleeding, dislocation of the lens and damage to the eye’s bone structure, according to the organization.

“If you have anything that’s larger than the size of your knuckle, your orbital rim, the sides of the skull [around the eye], will handle the pressure,” said Augusta ophthalmologist Dr. Maroulla Gleaton, a past president of the Maine Society of Eye Physicians and Surgeons, the academy’s state affiliate. “But if it’s smaller, your eye isn’t built to handle that. With a blow from a champagne cork, your rim won’t be enough to deflect it and your eyeball will take it.”

The academy provides a list of steps celebrants can take to ensure they will see 2013 with clear vision, and those steps are largely focused on reducing the triumphant pop many holiday partiers find so appealing about champagne. What’s more fun than firing off a champagne cork in jubilation?

“When a champagne cork flies, you really have no time to react and protect your delicate eyes,” said Dr. Monica L. Monica, an ophthalmologist and academy spokeswoman, in a statement. “Uncontrolled champagne corks can lead to painful eye injuries and devastating vision loss. We don’t want anyone to end up ringing in the year on an ophthalmologist’s surgery table.”

The organization urges sparkling wine and champagne drinkers to chill the bottle to 45 degrees Fahrenheit or colder before opening, because warm bottles are more likely to pop open unexpectedly. The academy also asks that people refrain from shaking the bottle, which, as most bottle shakers know, builds up the pressure behind the cork and, therefore, the speed at which the projectile launches.

Other tips on healthy champagne opening? Point the bottle at a 45-degree angle “away from yourself and any bystanders,” and cover the cork with the palm of your hand while untying the wire hood on the bottle. The academy asks celebrants to cover the entire top with a towel during the subsequent removal, applying pressure to the cork as the seal breaks to control its release from the bottle.

Also, corkscrews are a no-no.

So popping the champagne to punctuate the clock striking midnight may have to be less of an exclamation point than an ellipsis, but at least you’d be sure to have both eyes intact at 12:01 a.m., doctors say.

“I think most of us take our senses — our sight, our hearing and our sense of smell — for granted because it’s always with us,” Gleaton said. “The people who get hurt never forget after that, but it’s a shame they have to learn it that way. The eye is just not equipped for flying missiles.”

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