We investigated recent reports that, contrary to common belief, glaucoma can affect flash as well as pattern electroretinograms. An extensive flash and pattern electroretinogram test protocol was used in a large sample of glaucoma patients and age-matched controls who were either visually normal or had other optic nerve diseases. All electroretinogram parameters were reduced and delayed in normal people > 55 years of age. The effect did not increase in later decades. In patients aged < or = 55 years, flash electroretinograms showed mild reductions and delays from optic atrophy alone. Glaucomatous ERG changes were larger and increased with disease severity. Pattern electroretinograms and oscillatory potentials were almost equally reduced in optic atrophy and all degrees of glaucoma. Mildly affected patients > 55 years of age had similar electroretinogram change to age-matched normals in most conditions. Advanced glaucoma patients showed similar differences from normal irrespective of age. This suggests that direct diagnostic application of these results to older patients will be difficult, that the ERG changes in glaucoma cannot be attributed simply to optic atrophy and that additional widespread outer retinal damage occurs in glaucoma.