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Under pressure: How a doctor's wine hack freed a boy's tongue stuck in a bottle

The memory of opening a wine bottle without a corkscrew was the trick to freeing the little boy.
Image: Purple tongue
The boy's tongue was still purple three and a half hours after doctors successfully unstuck the bottle. He later recovered fully.European Journal of Anaesthesiology

Finally. Proof that drinking wine can help physicians do their job. Well, sort of.

An old hack to open a wine bottle without a corkscrew served as inspiration for German doctors tasked with helping a 7-year-old boy whose tongue had become trapped in a glass bottle.

A report on the case, from doctors who treated the boy at Auf der Bult Children’s Hospital in Hannover, Germany, was published Thursday in the European Journal of Anaesthesiology.

The boy had been drinking white grape juice from the bottle, and like any kid, tried his best to lick up every last drop by sticking his tongue as far as he could inside the bottle. It backfired.

Image: Tongue in bottle
Doctors in Germany had to get creative to help this boy whose tongue got stuck in a bottle.European Journal of Anaesthesiology

Instead of being rewarded with an extra drop of the juice, the pressure caused his tongue to swell and get stuck in the bottle.

His parents weren't able to remove the bottle, so they took him to the hospital. Fortunately, the boy's airway was not blocked, giving physicians time to develop a plan.

Doctors tried lubricating the area around the bottle and the tongue, twisting, turning and pulling, to no avail. Usually, in these situations, doctors must cut the bottom of the bottle off or drill holes in it to release the pressure.

But before they had to resort to such measures, Dr. Christophe Eich, a pediatric anesthesiologist at the hospital, stepped in. It was the first time Eich had encountered a case like this in his 25 years practicing medicine, but the memory of a very different kind of sweet nectar found in glass bottles gave the doctor an "aha!" moment.

About two decades earlier while he was still in medical training, Eich found himself in an unfortunate situation in which a corked wine bottle needed to be opened, but there was no corkscrew available.

He took a bit of thin medical tubing — the kind doctors use to squirt sterile water onto wounds to clean them — and hooked it up to an empty syringe. By threading the tube into the bottle and pumping in air, he was able to pop the cork.

"The air becomes pressurized and the only thing that can move is the cork. It's the same principle," Eich told NBC News.

Image: syringe and pump
Pumping a bit of air into the bottle with this syringe and tubing was enough to relieve the pressure inside the bottle, freeing the boy's tongue.European Journal of Anaesthesiology

He bet the old party trick could be used to free the boy's tongue. He was right.

Doctors managed to thread a thin tube past the tongue and into the bottle. "After about 60 milliliters of air, it was enough pressure in the bottle to squeeze the tongue out by the positive pressure technique," Eich said.

Within two weeks, the boy's tongue returned to normal.

Eich said the technique is "quite easy" and something "anyone could do." Remember, though, he has decades of experience.

Most experts presumably would recommend opening wine bottles the old fashioned way — and drinking juice (including the fermented kind) from a glass.

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