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Opening Champagne for Christmas? Here’s the University of Cambridge-certified advice on popping the cork safely

Experts have warned people to be careful when popping bottles of fizz over the festive period, saying that corks can leave bottles at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour and could cause permanent eye damage.

Academics suggest the injuries can be easily avoided and describe the best way to open the bottles in order to minimise risk.

Experts warn over Champagne cork related eye injuries (Alamy/PA)
Experts warn over Champagne cork related eye injuries (Alamy/PA)

Ethan Waisberg, from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Ophthalmology, and colleagues say the warning may seem overly cautious at first, but cork eye injuries are an often overlooked and a substantial threat to eye health.

According to the experts, pressure in a 750ml bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine is about three times that of a standard car tyre.

This has the potential to launch a cork up to 13 metres at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour.

The cork can travel from the bottle to the eye so fast – in less than 0.05 seconds – making the blinking reflex ineffective, they add.

Injuries can result in permanent blindness, the retina becoming detached, and lens dislocation, among other conditions.

The academics have suggested some tips to avoid 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.

If you are injured, the advice is to seek prompt consultation with an ophthalmologist to minimise the risk of vision impairment.

Writing in the BMJ, the authors say: “Let us toast to an excellent new year, keep the bubbly in our glass, and the sparkle in our eyes.”

How to open a champagne bottle safely (PA Graphics)
How to open a champagne bottle safely (PA Graphics)

In the paper the researchers underscore the need for awareness and preventive measures, including warning labels and alternative packaging materials, such as a screw cap, to safeguard people.

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, and the cork hit his eye, forcing him to withdraw from the next stage of the competition.

A number of other studies have looked at the impact of cork-related eye injuries.

For example, a study published in 2005 found that Champagne bottle corks were responsible for 20 per cent of eye injuries related to bottle tops in the US and 71 per cent in Hungary.

Although many people’s sight improved, the study found that, in 26 per cent of cases related to pressurised drinks, people remained legally blind.

They also highlight 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 – a degenerative condition affecting the retina, and glaucoma.

The authors add: “The goal of this article is to ensure that you don’t begin the new year on the operating table of an eye surgeon.”

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