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Control that Cork!

It sounds like a joke, I know. But apparently hundreds of people each year get hit in the eye with champagne corks, many of them on New Year's Eve. And many of them suffer lasting, serious damage to their vision.

According to Tamara Fountain, a Chicago-area ophthalmologist speaking for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, a cork fired from a bottle of bubbly can travel up to 50 miles per hour. If it hits you in the eye, it can scratch the cornea (the pain from which will bring you to your knees), bruise or tear the retina, disrupt the drainage system (which can eventually lead to a certain form of glaucoma), or damage the lens (leading to a cataract).

Like many injuries, though, this one is easily avoided. Here are the AAO's tips for safely opening that magnum of Dom Perignon (or Korbel....). You can also watch this video supplied by the AAO showing the proper technique; watch till the end to see a flying cork shatter a glass.

  • Chill your champagne or other sparkling wine to 45 degrees Fahrenheit before opening. Corks are more likely to pop unexpectedly from warm bottles.
  • Don't shake or agitate the bottle before opening.
  • Take precautions from the very start of the opening process: You can't count on that little wire cage to hold a ready-to-burst cork from popping. (Fountain says the pressure in that bottle is between 50 pounds per square inch and 90 PSI -- the same, she says, as the pressure in the tire of a double-decker bus.)
  • Remove the cage. Drape the cork end of the bottle with a towel, and grab it.
  • Point the bottle at a 45-degree angle, away from yourself and any bystanders.
  • Slowly and firmly twist the bottle while holding the cork -- still sheathed in that towel -- steady. When the cork's just about to pop, press it down slightly to keep it under control as it eases out.
  • Never open any sparkling beverage with a corkscrew.

Have you ever corked yourself in the eye? Please share your story.

And have a safe and happy New Year's Eve!

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  December 31, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
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Next: Group Names Top Health Hoaxes of 2008


I champagne cork should never pop or make a loud sound. I properely opened bottle lets out a barely audible psst! Anything more and you risk spillage.

And the best champagne is a vintage Pol Roger Winston Churchill. Cristal is for losers.

Posted by: sheepherder | December 31, 2008 9:53 AM | Report abuse

My Father loosened his retina catching a cork in the eye. They tried for months to re-attach it, all for naught. He would have been much better off if they took his eye out the day it happened. I think the warnings on the labels now may be in part due to his experience.

Posted by: curtis789 | December 31, 2008 11:24 AM | Report abuse

These are all good tips, but I'll rephrase the two most important ones:

# At all times treat the bottle like a loaded gun. Keep the cork pointed away from everyone.

# Before even touching the cage, place a linen napkin over the cork and hold it in place. You'll still be able to remove the cage.

Posted by: wapo9 | December 31, 2008 12:01 PM | Report abuse

I tend to also open it in a remote corner of the kitchen where there's room for popping (though I've never popped one), keeping everyone out of the way. Or if it's warm enough, I'll even go outside where there's room to spare.

Though I've always worked by the tenet of you actually are removing the bottle from the cork, not vice versa.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | December 31, 2008 3:58 PM | Report abuse

"A properly opened bottle lets out a barely audible psst!"

I've always heard that a champagne bottle opening should sound like the sigh of a beautiful woman. :)

Also, a friend of my mother's knew a guy whose eye was put out by a champagne cork--he had a glass eye made, with the Confederate flag on the back.

Posted by: NYC123 | December 31, 2008 5:16 PM | Report abuse

Items, three:

1. If neither towel nor linen napkin is available to drape over the bottle, cork, and cage, note that a section of ShamWow should do the trick quite nicely (though may inadvertently absorb the entire contents of the bottle if it gets a toe-hold on the liquid contained therein).

2. The Fox News Channel morning goons invited a champagne expert onto their show to advise upon champagne and, purportedly, the proper way to open a bottle. The bottle opening advice went by the wayside during the tease, as the two male goons deliberately exploded their bottles and turned at least one of the corks into a projectile which found its resting place on top of a lighting rig. (And then during the segment they butchered the woman's name once at the beginning, and then made a mockery of it twice at the end for good measure.)

3. And lastly:

"I've always heard that a champagne bottle opening should sound like the sigh of a beautiful woman. :)"

The question that immediately sprung to mind: What sort of beverage would correspond to the grunt of Connie Chung descending from atop a grand piano?

Posted by: Ted_Striker | December 31, 2008 5:46 PM | Report abuse

Next article, can you cover the ins and outs of sticking a fork in an electrical outlet? I'm not sure my kids and I are doing it correctly.

Posted by: gth1 | December 31, 2008 9:40 PM | Report abuse

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