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Eye Health Center

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Adrenergic Agonists for Glaucoma


Generic Name Brand Name
brimonidine Alphagan
dipivefrin Propine

These medicines are given in eyedrop form. The bottle has a purple cap. If you need to use more than one type of eyedrop, you may need to take each medicine in a certain order. You can use the color of the bottle cap to help you keep track of each type of eyedrop.

If you are using more than one type of eyedrop, wait 5 minutes between the different eyedrop medicines.

How It Works

Most adrenergic agonists reduce the pressure in the eyes by reducing how much fluid (aqueous humor) the eyes produce. They also increase the amount of fluid that drains out of the eyes.

Why It Is Used

Adrenergic agonists help lower eye pressure in people who have glaucoma. They are also used to prevent high pressure in an eye after laser treatment for glaucoma.

These medicines may be used along with other medicines to treat glaucoma.

How Well It Works

These medicines work well to reduce the pressure in the eyes.1 Reducing the pressure in the eyes reduces the chances of damage to the optic nerve, preventing further vision loss.

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Call911or other emergency services right away if you have:

Call your doctor right away if you have:

Common side effects of this medicine include:

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Adrenergic agonists may widen (dilate) the pupil. This may trigger closed-angle glaucoma in people who have narrow drainage angles.

People who take a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) medicine for depression cannot use brimonidine. People who take tricyclic antidepressants and people who have severe heart, liver, or kidney disease may not be able to use adrenergic agonist medicine.

If you wear contact lenses, you may need to take your contacts out before you put this medicine in your eye. You can reinsert the contacts 15 minutes after using the eyedrops.

Your doctor may suggest Combigan for you. This medicine has an adrenergic agonist (brimonidine) and another type of glaucoma medicine (timolol) mixed into one bottle.

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

If you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant.


Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.


  1. Gross RL (2009). Current medical management of glaucoma. In M Yanoff, JS Duker, eds., Ophthalmology, 3rd ed., pp. 1220-1226. Edinburgh: Mosby Elsevier.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerAdam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerChristopher J. Rudnisky, MD, MPH, FRCSC - Ophthalmology

Current as ofSeptember 9, 2014

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: September 09, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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