How Much Do Contacts Cost?
How much contacts cost depends on many factors, including your contact lens prescription, the type of contacts you choose and where you buy them.
Other factors that can affect your contact lens costs include manufacturer rebates, discounts for buying a year's supply at once and how frequently you replace your lenses.
"Ballpark Estimates" of Contact Lens Costs
Because many factors affect contact lens cost and prices frequently change, it's difficult to describe lens costs accurately.
But generally speaking, if you are nearsighted and are prescribed a popular brand of disposable soft contact lenses, these lenses frequently are sold at a retail price of $22 to $26 for a box of six lenses.
If you replace your contacts approximately every two weeks, this means you need about five boxes (30 lenses) per eye, or a total of 10 boxes per year. This comes to an annual contact lens cost of roughly $220 to $260 (lenses only).
A number of factors can change this estimate, including:
Astigmatism. Contact lenses that correct astigmatism cost more than soft contacts that only correct nearsightedness or farsightedness. Soft contact lenses for astigmatism, called toric contacts, frequently retail for $50 to $70 for a box of six lenses. So if you replace your toric contact lenses every two weeks, your annual lens cost is roughly $500 to $700. In some cases, eye doctors recommend replacing toric lenses less frequently, which lowers this cost.
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Colored contacts. Tinted soft contact lenses to enhance or change your eye color are more expensive than clear lenses or lenses with only a faint handling tint (which helps you see the lens in your storage case or helps you find the lens if you drop it). Expect to pay roughly 50 to 80 percent more for colored contact lenses than for non-tinted lenses.
Special-effect contact lenses. Special-effect contacts (also called theatrical contact lenses, costume contacts and gothic contact lenses) are popular for Halloween and costume parties. These lenses typically are sold separately in individual glass vials and can range in price from $50 to more than $200 per lens.
Presbyopia. If you are over age 40 and need bifocals, there are a number of contact lens options to correct presbyopia. If your eye doctor recommends and prescribes disposable bifocal contact lenses, an estimated per-box cost for these lenses is $50 to $70 (similar to the cost of disposable toric contacts). So again, an annual lens cost of $500 to $700 is not unusual if you wear the lenses daily and replace them every two weeks.
Daily disposable contacts. Daily disposable lenses are designed to be discarded after a single use. These lenses typically are sold in boxes of 30 lenses and often are sold at a retail price of $20 to $30 per box. Using this per-box estimate, your annual lens cost for daily disposable contacts is $480 to $720. (But when you order several boxes, such as a year's supply, you will usually receive a significant discount and a rebate, reducing the overall cost to around a dollar a day, or even less.)
Extended wear (30-day) silicone hydrogel contacts. A 12-month supply of extended wear silicone hydrogel contacts typically will cost $250 to $300. These lenses usually cost $50 to $70 for a box of six lenses, and you will need at least four or five boxes during a 12-month period (especially if you lose or damage some lenses, or wear them for less than 30 days).
An advantage of 30-day lens wear is that you almost eliminate the cost of lens care solutions. However, you should keep a multipurpose contact lens solution handy. If your lenses get dry or dirty, you may need to remove and clean them within the 30-day wearing period.
Gas permeable contact lenses. Rigid gas permeable contacts are custom-made for each patient. Because they are not mass-produced like soft contacts, gas permeable lenses are more expensive than soft lenses. Though the per-lens cost of gas permeable lenses (also called RGP or GP contacts) is higher, a single pair of GP lenses can last a whole year. So the annual cost of wearing gas permeable lenses often is very comparable with the cost of soft lenses. Ask your eye doctor for a cost comparison for your specific visual needs.
Custom contacts. Custom-made contact lenses are available in both gas permeable and soft lens materials. Commonly prescribed custom GP lenses are gas permeable contacts designed to correct vision problems caused by keratoconus and other hard-to-fit-eyes. Custom contact lenses are significantly more costly than conventional GP or soft lenses.
Cost of Contact Lens Solutions
Don't forget about the cost of contact lens solutions to clean and disinfect your lenses. If you wear contacts on a daily wear basis and clean and disinfect them after each use, expect your annual cost for contact lens care solutions to be roughly $150 to $200.
So to determine your combined yearly contact lens costs for lenses and solutions, add $150 to $200 to the above totals.
The exception is daily disposable contacts. Since you discard these lenses after each use, often there is no need for contact lens solutions.
It's a good idea, though, to keep a bottle of contact lens solution handy if you wear daily disposable contacts, in case you need to rinse or rewet your lenses during the day. This is especially true if you live or work in a dry, dusty environment.
About the Author: Gary Heiting, OD, is senior editor of AllAboutVision.com. Dr. Heiting has more than 25 years of experience as an eye care provider, health educator and consultant to the eyewear industry. His special interests include contact lenses, nutrition and preventive vision care. Connect with Dr. Heiting via Google+.
Liz Segre also contributed to this article.
[Page updated September 22, 2015]