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Champagne and sparkling wines are a natural choice for holiday celebrations, particularly for New Year’s Eve. But, before you get ready to pop the cork, be aware of the potential dangers. Your celebration could quickly turn to tragedy if a popping champagne cork hits your eye, experts warn. Each year, people suffer from eye injuries resulting from flying champagne corks, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

"A flying champagne cork is like a small missile and is a potentially blinding weapon," says Dr. Kevin Kelly, medical director of the emergency department at Alvarado Hospital.

Dr. Kelly explains that the corks are just small enough to pass by the facial bones that usually protect our eyes from larger objects. The sudden impact of a popped cork can cause painful surface damage or even interior damage to the eye. He says that severe eye damage, such as bleeding or even a rupture, could result from a cork's direct hit to the eye.

Dr. Kelly suggests that to prevent eye injuries, be aware of the proper way to open champagne or sparkling wines bottles. Popping the cork properly saves the wine's sparkle and possibly an eye.

Dr. Kelly recommends the following tips for opening a champagne bottle safely:

  • Keep the bottle cold. A warm bottle is more likely to pop unexpectedly. Actually, champagne tastes best when served at a temperature of about 45 degrees.
  • Remove the foil over the cork. Then carefully remove the wire hood while holding the cork down with the palm of your hand.
  • Place a towel or cloth napkin over the entire top and tilt the bottle at a 45-degree angle away from yourself and others.
  • Grasp the cork firmly and slowly twist to break the seal. If it is difficult to move the cork, place the bottle under cool tap water for about 20 seconds, then repeat the twisting method described.
  • Hold the bottle away from you and anyone else, at a 45 degree angle.

With one hand, hold the cork and gently turn the bottle in one direction. Turn the bottle and not the cork. Pull slightly upward pull until the cork is nearly out of the bottleneck. Then, using slight downward pressure of a controlled "roll," pull the cork completely out with a hissing noise and a soft "pop."

"We want people to keep their holidays safe and accident free so they don’t have to start the New Year with an unanticipated trip to the ER,” Dr. Kelly added.