Celebrations and Champagne go together like Times Square and sparkle. Yet for all its ability to elevate a celebration, opening bubbly is not without risks. A Champagne cork can fly up to 50 mph as it leaves the bottle — fast enough to shatter glass. If the cork hits an eye, it can cause bleeding, abrasions and even glaucoma.
You’ve probably heard the warnings every year come December 31. If your New Year’s Eve plans include shaking up a bottle of champagne, popping the cork with two thumbs, and blasting the wine over a crowd of people in a spray of foam, you might want to reconsider. It could quite literally take your eye out.
“Because these corks, when they’re flying out of the champagne bottle, carry so much energy they typically will cause a shockwave that can lead to a hemorrhage, disruption of tissues, a cataract, even retinal damage,” said Dr. Andrew Iwach, a San Francisco ophthalmologist and clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).
The AAO has long advocated for more caution when opening bottles of champagne and even has a step-by-step video guide to properly opening a champagne bottle:
Eye injuries from champagne corks are really rare. Iwach says he’s never actually seen such an injury in his practice and Dr. Kelly Bookman, the director of the emergency department at the University of Colorado hospital, also says she has never seen a single case of champagne cork-related eye injury in 21 years of practice.
What little data there is on the topic shows it happens only a few times a decade. One study from 2004 found only six people in the US who suffered severe eye injuries due to champagne corks, between 1982 and 1999. In Hungary, over roughly the same time period, 37 people reported serious, cork-caused eye injuries.
You could chalk the cork-eye-danger hype up to well-timed publicity for Big Ophthalmology to get people thinking about eye protection in general. But it’s also true that when these rare injuries occur, they can be really bad. Iwach says roughly 25 percent of the injuries that do happen result in making the victim legally blind.
And when you look at the physics involved, it’s not hard to see how a rogue cork could do some damage. Your average bottle of champagne holds 6.2 bar (about 90 psi) of pressure, about three times the pressure in a car tire and enough of a punch to fire the cork 42 feet, according to the study. That’s not something you want coming at your face from a few inches away.
“There’s a reason the eye is protected on all sides, except where it’s exposed, by a bony cage,” Iwach said. “It doesn’t do well when it has a projectile hit it and especially with such velocity.”
In early 2015, Novak Djokovic had a close call with a champagne cork after winning a match against Roger Federer.
Follow these five tips from the American Academy of Ophthalmology to prevent a serious eye injury when opening your bubbly:
1) Just chill.
Champagne has tons of bubbles filled with gas that expand when warm. With each degree in temperature, pressure builds that can make a cork fly out unexpectedly. To preserve your eyesight (and the taste of your bubbly), always chill your Champagne in the fridge or on ice to about 45 degrees.
2) Don’t shake, rattle…or point.
While it looks like fun in the movies, don’t shake the bottle. Agitating Champagne increases pressure. Also, don’t point the bottle at anyone! Beyond being impolite, it could cost someone an eye.
3) Control the cork.
After tearing off the foil, hold down the cork with the palm of your hand while removing the wire hood. Never use a corkscrew to open a bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine.
4) Towel, tilt, twist.
Place a towel over the entire top of the bottle and grasp the cork. Point the bottle at a 45-degree angle away from yourself and any bystanders. Slowly and firmly twist the bottle at its base while holding the cork — not the other way around — to break the seal. Counter the force of the cork using slight downward pressure just as the cork breaks free, creating the signature pop.
Time to toast. Clink carefully to avoid breaking any glasses. Here’s to celebrating responsibly! If you do sustain an eye injury from a champagne cork, seek immediate medical attention from an ophthalmologist. HAPPY NEW YEARS from all the staff at Northwest Eye Center and Essence Laser & Wellness!