(NEW YORK) -- A 14-year-old girl from Queens, New York may need a cornea transplant after wearing colored contact lenses she bought at a beauty store for $20.
Erica Barnes said she only wore the hazel-hued lenses for one day, according to local reports. But that was long enough to scratch the surface of her right eye and spur an infection that could leave behind a blinding scar.
"Once that protective barrier is defeated, bacteria can just flow in," said Dr. Roy Chuck, professor and chair of ophthalmology at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. "You can treat the infection. But part of healing is making a scar, and that can block vision."
It could take up to six months for doctors to know whether Barnes will need a cornea transplant to restore vision in her right eye. But while she waits, the teen tolerates excruciating pain.
"The density of nerves on the surface of the eye is higher than almost any other place on the body," said Chuck. A small scratch can feel like 1,000 toothaches. And a big scratch, Chuck said he could "only imagine what it would be like for a 14-year-old."
Federal law prohibits the sale of contacts, even for cosmetic purposes, without a prescription. But beauty shops on the street and online sell them cheap, without a proper fitting or instructions on how to use them.
"Teens and young adults are bypassing doctors to get these lenses. And when you do that, you run the risk of not having the right fit," Chuck said.
The wrong fit makes lenses more likely to scratch the eye. Add in a teen who doesn't understand the importance of clean lenses and hands, and the infection risk soars.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio