Like most people, Jeremy West, 40, thought he knew how to open a bottle of champagne correctly. He had done it plenty of times before without a problem. But last Mother’s Day, his luck ran out. As he slowly eased the cork from the bottle with his thumbs, the cork shot straight into his eye. The pain was searing.
“I couldn’t open my eye at first from the pain,” Jeremy said. “When I finally did get my eye opened, I couldn’t even see my hand in front of that eye, just light sources. Everything looked kind of yellowish orange. That’s the point when I started panicking and tried to figure out what to do next.”
Jeremy hoped he’d be fine once the pain eased but decided to call a medical advice line just in case. The representative advised he immediately go to the emergency room to be evaluated by an ophthalmologist since eye injuries can lead to vision loss.
The brunch and mimosas would have to wait. From the backseat of an Uber, Jeremy and his girlfriend searched Google for champagne cork injuries. As they scrolled through news stories of corks taking out people’s eyes, their anxiety grew. Jeremy recalls the concern in his girlfriend’s voice as she said, “you can’t be losing your eye right now.”
“You can’t be losing your eye right now”
Champagne cork eye injuries are rare, but when they occur, the damage can be devastating: the eye can split open, bones around the eye can fracture, it can cause bleeding inside the eye or the retina to detach from the back of the eye.
Considering the physics involved, it's not hard to see how a flying cork can blind. The average bottle of champagne holds about 90 psi of pressure, enough to shoot the cork from the bottle at about 50 mph. The cork is also perfectly sized to evade the protective bones around the eye and deliver a direct hit to the eye’s delicate structure.
Ophthalmologist reattaches retina
Rahul Khurana, MD, an ophthalmologist who specializes in conditions of the retina, determined that Jeremy suffered a retinal detachment, and he would need surgery to save his vision.
A retinal detachment happens when the tissue at the back of the eye pulls away from a layer of blood vessels that provide oxygen and nutrients. Symptoms of a detached retina include seeing flashes of light, floaters (small dark spots or squiggly lines that float across your vision), a “curtain” or shadow over your field of vision.
To move the retina back into place, Dr. Khurana sewed a flexible silicone band around the white part of his eye. This gently pushes the retina back into place. After following a standard post-surgery recovery plan, including staying upright for a few days and a few more follow-up appointments, Jeremy can see well again with an updated contact lens prescription.
“Any time you experience an eye injury, you’re at risk for serious vision-threatening consequences. This is especially true for high projectile objects like champagne corks, which can fly up to 50 mph from the bottle,” Dr. Khurana said. “Jeremy’s treatment was successful, but at the end of the day, these injuries are a serious thing, and nothing is guaranteed. We want people to know how to prevent these injuries, and if it does happen, to make sure to see an ophthalmologist right away.”
Still a fan of champagne, and now, eye safety
To celebrate his successful recovery, Jeremy gave Dr. Khurana a bottle of champagne as a thank you gift.
“I’m obviously a lot more careful now about anything that can shoot into my eye,” Jeremy said. “But I still like to have a good mimosa at brunch, so that hasn’t changed.”
As Jeremy’s experience shows, you don’t have to recklessly shake up a bottle and pop the cork into a crowd of people to cause a serious eye injury. Jeremy’s mistake was simple, he didn’t point the bottle away from himself. Next time you reach for a bottle of bubbly, follow these tips to keep yourself and your friends and family safe: