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November 4, 2019

The ingenious way a doctor freed this boy's tongue from a bottle

Daily Briefing
    Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on Sep. 26, 2022.

    When a seven-year-old boy from Germany went to the hospital with his tongue stuck in a bottle, a doctor relied on his wine bottle opening skills to help the boy out, according to a case study published Thursday in the European Journal of Anaesthesiology.

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    The case

    The boy came to Christoph Eich, a pediatric anesthesiologist at the Department of Anaesthesia at Auf der Bult Children's Hospital, with his tongue stuck in a bottle of juice. According to the report, the boy had been licking the inside of the bottle when his tongue got stuck. Before the patient visited the hospital's anesthesiology department, the boy's mother and a pediatric surgeon tried to pull the bottle from his tongue, but it wouldn't budge.



    The big idea

    First, doctors tried to remove the bottle by giving the boy a light sedative and inserting a cannula—thin tube—between his tongue and the neck of the bottle. The idea was that could release the "vacuum" of pressure in the bottle. But the effort didn't work.

    After that, Eich remembered a time when he had been able to uncork a wine bottle without a bottle opener. Eich said he used a syringe and a cannula to free the cork and figured he could use a similar method to free the boy's tongue from the bottle neck.

    Eich connected the cannula to an empty syringe and injected air into the bottle through the tube. The method, called the "positive-pressure" method, allowed Eich to slowly work the child's tongue out of the bottle neck.

    The pressure from the bottle damaged multiple capillaries in the boy's tongue, leaving it swollen and "discolored" when it was released. The doctors gave the boy medication to reduce the swelling and released him after 24 hours. Two weeks later, his tongue had fully healed.

    The positive pressure method

    According to Eich, there is only one other reported case of doctors using the positive-pressure method to release a tongue trapped inside a bottle, but that case was published over 30 years ago and had "largely been forgotten."

    In most other cases, doctors had to put the patient under general anesthesia, and cut the bottom of the bottle or drill holes in it to relieve the pressure. But for Eich, the positive pressure method proved to be "simple, effective, and safe" adding that he "would suggest trying this method before more invasive procedures under general anesthesia are considered" (Rettner, Live Science, 11/1; Edwards, "NBC News," NBC, 10/31).

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