Ushering in the New Year is a time of celebration and laughter.
But when your eye takes a direct hit from a Champagne cork, it's no laughing matter.
Improperly aimed popping of Champagne corks is one of the most common causes for holiday-related eye injuries, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).
"Within a fraction of a second, you will have no chance of getting away or blinking," said Dr. Thomas Steinemann, associate professor of ophthalmology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and spokesman for the academy.
This is because the small Champagne cork is under 90 pounds of pressure -- which is three times the pressure inside a typical car tire. With this in mind, it is little wonder that in the United States, nearly half of Champagne cork injuries cause blindness in the eye that takes the hit.
It's All Fun and Games -- Until Someone Loses an Eye
The eye doctors know exactly what can happen with Champagne cork accidents because they see them every year.
"[I] saw this frequently when in New Orleans," said Dr. Randall Olson, director of John A. Moran Eye Center in Salt Lake City. "This is a completely preventable injury."
"Usually we see this type of injury around New Year's. In fact, it is a very common injury," said Dr. Peter Kaiser, an ophthalmologist at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.
"The worst was a patient whose eye wall ruptured from the force of the cork, and [the outside of the eyeball] had to be stitched closed."
A number of different injuries can occur depending on how far away the bottle is from the eye and how directly the cork is aimed at the eye, doctors said.
"Your eye works like a camera; the front part of the eye is the lens, and the back part the film," said Steinemann.
"Sometimes [the cork] comes out with such force it can deform the eye. In deforming the eye, the iris gets torn and bleeding occurs. So, in the front part of your eye, you can get a tear or a blood clot."
Injuries to the back of the eye can cause bleeding in the space in front of your retina, the "film" of the camera. The retina can also tear, detach, or swell.
And the results aren't pretty.
"The eye itself can rupture, and you can end up with a hole in the eye," Steinemann said.
In addition to direct eye injuries, "orbital and facial fractures not uncommonly accompany these types of injuries," said Dr. Jon Braverman, associate clinical professor of ophthalmology at University of Colorado in Denver.
Depending on how serious the eye injury, treatments can vary.
In mild cases, the patient may only require topical medication for the affected eye. But more serious cases might require surgery.
"Surgical repair of associated orbital fractures may be necessary, as well as ocular surgery to repair intraocular hemorrhages, retinal detachments, and frank rupture of the eye wall," said Braverman.
And some of the problems associated with Champagne corks to the eye may only show up later, or linger past initial treatment. Victims may suffer from clouding of the eye, high pressure in the eyeball and seeing double, according to Braverman.
Think Before You Pop
People commonly make several mistakes when opening Champagne bottles -- oversights that put them at risk of an eye injury:
- Do not let the bottle sit out for too long. The cork of a warm bottle is more likely to pop unexpectedly, warns the AAO.
- Do not shake the bottle before opening. The gas can expand, which puts the cork under more pressure, says the academy.
- Do not unscrew the safety wire before the bottle is pointed away from yourself and others, says Kaiser. "The worst injuries occur when the bottle is opened while looking directly at the cork so it hits the eye squarely."
- Do not pop the cork. Popping, instead of gently unscrewing the cork, allows the cork to burst out uncontrolled, increasing the chance of eye injury.
- Do not open the bottle close to a wall or a ceiling. "Letting it fly towards the ceiling is still dangerous due to potential richocheting of the projectile," says Braverman.
Here are tips from the AAO to safely open a Champagne bottle during this holiday season:
- Make sure sparkling wine is chilled to at least 45 degrees Fahrenheit before opening.
- Hold down the cork with the palm of your hand while removing the wire hood.
- Point the bottle away from yourself and others at a 45-degree angle.
- Place a towel over the entire top and grasp the cork. Slowly and firmly twist the cork to break the seal.
- Continue until the cork is almost out of the neck. Counter the force of the cork using slight downward pressure just as the cork breaks free from the bottle.
This New Year's Eve, before you open up that bottle of Champagne in celebration, remember to use these helpful tips. They may save your eyes and those of your loved ones.