Warning issued over potential injuries caused by flying champagne corks

Report in British Medical Journal says pressure in a 750ml bottle can launch corks at a speed of 80/kmh

All set for a Bucks Fizz or a Mimosa on Christmas morning? Looking forward to opening the champagne as the clock approaches midnight on New Year’s Eve? Be careful this festive season warn researchers, writing in the Christmas issue of the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

Doctors from the University of Cambridge, University College Dublin and a number of US universities say eye injuries while opening bottles of fizz can be significant. They explain that the pressure in a 750ml 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 metres at speeds of up to 80 kilometres per hour.

Propelled by CO2, a cork can travel from bottle to eye in less than 0.05 seconds, rendering our blinking reflex ineffective. It means a cork hitting an eye can cause permanent blindness, retinal detachment and lens dislocation.

The authors searched the medical literature for studies that examined the impact of cork-related eye injuries. A 2005 study found that champagne bottle corks were responsible for 20 per cent of eye injuries related to bottle tops in the US, rising to 71 per cent in Hungary. And while many people’s sight improved, the study found that, in 26 per cent of cases, people remained legally blind despite medical treatment.


A 2009 review of 34 cases of eye injuries caused by corks from sparkling wine bottles in Italy found injuries such as bleeding, lens dislocation and cataract formation following the eye trauma. The study shed light on the range of complications that can result from cork-related eye injuries, including pupil movement issues, separation of the iris, macular degeneration and glaucoma.

The authors of the BMJ paper say it underscores the need for awareness and preventive measures, including warning labels and the use of alternative packaging materials, such as a screw cap, to safeguard people.

The eye specialists offer some practical tips to reduce risks of eye injury during toasts: 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. Other helpful manoeuvres include placing a towel over the top of the bottle while holding the cork firmly and gently twisting the bottle until the cork loosens

Should an injury occur, the authors recommend prompt consultation with an eye specialist to minimise the risk of eye damage and vision impairment.

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

Muiris Houston

Dr Muiris Houston

Dr Muiris Houston is medical journalist, health analyst and Irish Times contributor