Management of glaucoma: focus on pharmacological therapy

Drugs Aging. 2005;22(1):1-21. doi: 10.2165/00002512-200522010-00001.


Glaucoma represents a major cause of vision loss throughout the world. Primary open-angle glaucoma, the most common form of glaucoma, is a chronic, progressive disease often, though not always, accompanied by elevated intraocular pressure (IOP). In this disorder, retinal ganglion cell loss and excavation of the optic nerve head produce characteristic peripheral visual field deficits. Patients with normal-tension glaucoma present with typical visual field and optic nerve head changes, without a documented history of elevated IOP. A variety of secondary causes, such as pigment dispersion syndrome and ocular trauma, can result in glaucoma as well. Treatment of all forms of glaucoma consists of reducing IOP. With proper treatment, progression of this disease can often be delayed or prevented. Treatment options for glaucoma include medications, laser therapy and incisional surgery. Laser techniques for the reduction of IOP include argon laser trabeculoplasty and selective laser trabeculoplasty. Both techniques work by increasing outflow of aqueous humour through the trabecular meshwork. Surgical options for glaucoma treatment include trabeculectomy, glaucoma drainage tube implantation and ciliary body cyclodestruction. While each of these types of procedures is effective at lowering IOP, therapy usually begins with medications. Medications lower IOP either by reducing the production or by increasing the rate of outflow of aqueous humour within the eye. Currently, there are five major classes of drugs used for the treatment of glaucoma: (i) cholinergics (acetylcholine receptor agonists); (ii) adrenoceptor agonists; (iii) carbonic anhydrase inhibitors (CAIs); (iv) beta-adrenoceptor antagonists; and (v) prostaglandin analogues (PGAs). Treatment typically begins with the selection of an agent for IOP reduction. Although beta-adrenoceptor antagonists are still commonly used by many clinicians, the PGAs are playing an increasingly important role in the first-line therapy of glaucoma. Adjunctive agents, such as alpha-adrenoceptor agonists and CAIs are often effective at providing additional reduction in IOP for patients not controlled on monotherapy. As with any chronic disease, effective treatment depends on minimising the adverse effects of therapy and maximising patient compliance. The introduction of a variety of well tolerated and potent medications over the past few years now allows the clinician to choose a treatment regimen on an individual patient basis and thereby treat this disorder more effectively.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic Agonists / administration & dosage
  • Adrenergic Agonists / adverse effects
  • Adrenergic Agonists / therapeutic use
  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists / administration & dosage
  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists / adverse effects
  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Aqueous Humor / physiology
  • Carbonic Anhydrase Inhibitors / administration & dosage
  • Carbonic Anhydrase Inhibitors / adverse effects
  • Carbonic Anhydrase Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Cholinergic Agonists / administration & dosage
  • Cholinergic Agonists / adverse effects
  • Cholinergic Agonists / therapeutic use
  • Drug Combinations
  • Glaucoma / drug therapy*
  • Glaucoma / metabolism
  • Glaucoma / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Intraocular Pressure / drug effects*
  • Prostaglandins / administration & dosage
  • Prostaglandins / adverse effects
  • Prostaglandins / therapeutic use


  • Adrenergic Agonists
  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists
  • Carbonic Anhydrase Inhibitors
  • Cholinergic Agonists
  • Drug Combinations
  • Prostaglandins