Epithelial permeability and autofluorescence of the cornea were determined by fluorophotometry in 21 patients with open-angle glaucoma or ocular hypertension using timolol medication with the preservative benzalkonium chloride (BAC) and 2 weeks after changing to timolol medication without BAC. The investigation was performed to determine whether removal of BAC would reduce toxic effects on the cornea and complaints of sensations of burning or dry eye. Corneal epithelial permeability decreased significantly after changing medication (mean decrease per patient 27%, P = 0.025). Corneal autofluorescence increased significantly after changing medication suggesting an alteration in corneal metabolism (mean increase per patient 6%, P = 0.003). Timolol without BAC was found to be as effective as timolol with BAC in reducing intraocular pressure (P = 0.4). Removal of BAC from timolol resulted in an improvement of corneal epithelial barrier function and in a reduction of complaints. The improvement was found to be proportional to the duration of the preceding BAC-containing therapy.