Blind drunk: A champagne cork to the eye is no reason to celebrate

Eye specialists warn the pressure in a champagne bottle is three times as high as a standard car tyre, and can launch a cork at speeds of up to 80km/h. This can take the cork from bottle to eye in less than 0.05 seconds, faster than we can blink. The experts point to previous research showing how dangerous corks can be: causing retinal detachment, lens dislocation, even permanent blindness – with one 2005 study finding that 26% of those injured remained legally blind.

Journal/conference: The BMJ

Link to research (DOI): 10.1136/bmj.p2520

Organisation/s: University of Cambridge, UK

Media release

From: The BMJ

Warning over champagne cork related eye injuries

Experts explore the dark side of uncorking bubbly beverages and offer tips to ensure a safe celebration

Be careful this holiday season, warn researchers in the Christmas issue of The BMJ. Eye injuries while opening bottles of fizz can be significant and easily avoided.

This warning might at first sound overly cautious, write Ethan Waisberg and colleagues, but cork eye injuries are an often overlooked and substantial threat to eye health.

They explain that the pressure in a 750 ml bottle of champagne or sparkling wine is about three times that of a standard car tyre, with the potential to launch a cork up to 13 m at speeds of up to 80 kph.

What’s more, a cork can travel from bottle to eye in less than 0.05 seconds, making the blinking reflex ineffective. And a cork hitting an eye can cause permanent blindness, retinal detachment, and lens dislocation, among other conditions. 

They point to a case in 2022 when cyclist Biniam Girmay opened a bottle of prosecco on the winners’ podium to celebrate his win at the Giro d’Italia. The cork hit his eye and he had to withdraw from the next stage of the competition.

Several studies have examined the impact of cork related eye injuries.

For example, a study published in 2005 found that champagne bottle corks were responsible for 20% of eye injuries related to bottle tops in the US and 71% in Hungary. And although many people’s sight improved, the study found that, in 26% of cases related to pressurised drinks, people remained legally blind. 

And a 2009 review of 34 cases of eye injuries caused by corks and caps from sparkling wine bottles in Italy found injuries including bleeding, lens dislocation and traumatic cataract formation. Complications included pupil movement issues, separation of the iris, macular degeneration and glaucoma.

These studies underscore the need for awareness and preventive measures, including warning labels and alternative packaging materials, such as a screw cap, to safeguard people, write the authors.

As such, they offer some practical tips to reduce risks of eye injury during toasts, in line with guidance from the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

These include chilling the bottle before opening to reduce pressure and cork velocity, pointing the bottle at a 45-degree angle away from yourself and others, and counteracting the upward moving force of the cork by pressing down on it.

Should an injury occur, the authors recommend prompt consultation with an ophthalmologist to minimise the risk of vision impairment.

“Let us toast to an excellent new year, keep the bubbly in our glass, and the sparkle in our eyes,” they conclude.

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