Medicinal Uses of Glycerin

Glycerin, also referred to as glycerol or glycerine, is a colorless, odorless organic liquid derived from fats and oils. It is thick, with a warm, sweet taste. Glycedrin is used in industrial applications, food preparation and in personal care products. It also has medicinal uses, and is often an ingredient in pharmaceuticals.

Glycerin suppositories in blister packs. (Image: Roxiller/iStock/Getty Images)

Eye Disorders

Glycerin is used to treat eye disorders that are caused by increased interocular pressure, such as glaucoma. It can also be used to decrease pressure in the eye before and after ocular surgery, or during a medical eye examination.

Cerebral Edema

Intravenous preparations of glycerin may be used to treat excessive intracranial pressure. Glycerin draws fluid from tissues in the body into the bloodstream, and also acts as a diuretic by preventing water re-absorption in the kidneys. These actions dehydrate the tissues while reducing blood volume, thereby diminishing intracranial pressure.


Glycerin is a primary constituent of nitroglycerin. Better known for its explosive properties, nitroglycerin is also used as a treatment for angina, a painful condition caused by constriction of the blood vessels in the heart. Nitroclycerin, when taken orally, acts as a vasodialator, rapidly opening the blood vessels in the body to provide greater blood flow and oxygen perfusion to the heart.


Glycerin works as a softening agent and lubricant in cases of constipation. A glycerin suppository, inserted into the rectum, melts at body temperature. The glycerin then causes water to be drawn into the colon and rectum, softening the stool and lubricating the bowels, allowing for an easier bowel movement.

Vehicle for Other Medications

Due to its emollient, solvent, sweetening and moisturizing properties, glycerin is frequently used as an ingredient in other pharmaceutical preparations. It is used in tinctures and elixirs, such as Theophylline, which is used to treat asthma. Glycerin is also used in ointments and creams to prevent them from drying out, and can act as a preservative.

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