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Danger Lurks Behind Cork and Fork This Holiday Season

By Teresa Rochester

Beware the danger lurking behind the cork -- and fork -- during the holiday season.

Bottles of bubbly and one too many forkfuls of holiday food could lead to a trip to the hospital or at least serious discomfort.

With a simple pop a cork can become a dangerous flying projectile, according to doctors at Saint John's Health Center. Doctors also caution that excess munching on goodies like cookies, chocolates and golden brown ham can lead to unpleasant cases of holiday heartburn.

Several hundred people are sent to the emergency room with flying-champagne-cork related eye injuries each year, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Unlike a basketball hurtling toward your face, a cork is just small enough to fly past facial bones that usually protect eyes from larger objects, Kino said in a statement. The force of a popped cork can cause severe eye damage, such as bleeding or even a rupture, as well as painful surface damage like a black eye.

Stuffing yourself with goodies also may not bode well for your body. Certain foods like chocolates, tomato sauces and fatty foods may trigger heartburn, an unpleasant feeling that occurs when stomach acid bubbles back up the esophagus. This happens when the ring-like valve separating the stomach and esophagus becomes slack or is under excess pressure.

"Over-the-counter medications may alleviate heartburn during the holidays," said Dr. Danice Hertz, a gastroenterologist at Saint John's Health Center. "While that may be fine as a short-term remedy, simple changes in lifestyle may prove more effective in the long run, particularly if you suffer from heartburn more than once a week."

To avoid cork and fork related incidents check out the helpful tips below, provided by Kino and Hertz.

Popping the Cork:

  • Keep the bottle cold since a warm bottle is more likely to pop unexpectedly. Besides, the champagne tastes better cold.
  • Remove the foil over the cork and carefully remove the wire hood while holding down the cork with the palm of your hand.
  • Cover the entire top of the bottle with a towel or cloth napkin and tilt it away from yourself and others at a 45 degree angle. Grasp the cork firmly and slowly twist to break the seal. If the cork won't twist, place the bottle under cool tap water for about 20 seconds, then repeat the twisting method described.
  • With one hand, hold the cork and gently turn the bottle in one direction. Turn the bottle and not the cork. Pull slightly upward 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."

Avoiding heartburn long after the holidays:

  • Lose Weight -- Excess weight increases pressure on the diaphragm and forces the esophageal valve open when it should be closed. Losing weight is a simple and effective first step in treating chronic heartburn.
  • Pregnancy -- Pregnant women suffer from heartburn for much the same reason as the obese. While they don't have the option of losing weight during pregnancy, they can find comfort in knowing that the problem will subside with the birth of the baby.
  • Smoking and Alcohol -- The nicotine in cigarettes causes the esophageal valve to relax. Quitting smoking may take care of the problem. Alcohol can also cause the valve to become lazy and ineffective.
  • Food -- Spearmint, peppermint and fatty foods, along with foods high in acid and spices, coffee and carbonated drinks, are all known to irritate damaged esophageal linings. Avoiding foods that are known irritants to you may help prevent heartburn.
  • Hiatal Hernia -- To reach the stomach the esophagus must pass through an opening (hiatus) in the diaphragm, a large sheet of muscle separating the chest and stomach. A hiatal hernia occurs when a part of the stomach pushes through the this opening into the chest cavity. While hiatal hernias often cause no symptoms, for those who do have symptoms, heartburn is a common complaint.
This article originally ran in The Lookout on Dec. 22, 1999.
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