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Home > Patients & Visitors > Health Library > Theophylline for Long-Term Control of Asthma
Theophylline is available as pills, capsules, liquid, and
Theophylline is a methylxanthine.
Sustained-release methylxanthine medicines are used to control
inflammation in the airways in the lungs (bronchial
tubes). Short-acting methylxanthine medicines are used to control narrowing
of the bronchial tubes. This may reduce
Theophylline is used in
mild-to-moderate persistent asthma. It is usually used
with an inhaled corticosteroid. It can be used by itself or with an inhaled
corticosteroid to control symptoms at night.
Theophylline is considered an
alternative medicine for persistent asthma in adults. Inhaled corticosteroids
are preferred. It is also considered an alternative addition to inhaled
corticosteroids in moderate persistent asthma in children and adults.
Long-acting inhaled beta2-agonists are the preferred addition to inhaled
In rare cases,
theophylline may be used instead of another asthma medicine:
Different types of medicines are often used together in
the treatment of asthma. Treatment for asthma depends on a person's
age, his or her type of asthma, and how well the treatment is controlling
Your doctor will work with you to help find the number and
dose of medicines that work best.
The addition of theophylline to an inhaled corticosteroid can improve lung function in adults
with uncontrolled mild-to-moderate persistent asthma.footnote 2
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:
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.)
Many other medicines
(such as antibiotics, medicines to control stomach acid, birth control pills,
medicines to calm people, heart medicines, and seizure medicines),
alcohol, and some medical conditions can affect the levels of theophylline in
the blood. High blood levels of theophylline cause increased side
Because theophylline interacts with many different
medicines, tell your doctor about all medicines you are taking. Your doctor
also will check the level of theophylline in your blood regularly to make sure
it is not too high.
Babies are especially at risk for developing
high levels of theophylline in the blood. So they need their blood levels
checked regularly. Slow-release theophylline has an even greater risk for
causing side effects than the short-acting 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.
If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, 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, breastfeeding, 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.
National Institutes of Health (2007). National Asthma Education and Prevention Program Expert Panel Report 3: Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma (NIH Publication No. 08–5846). Available online: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/asthma/index.htm.
Dennis RJ, Solarte I (2011). Asthma in adults (chronic), search date April 2010. BMJ Clinical Evidence. Available online: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerRohit K Katial, MD - Allergy and Immunology
Current as ofMay 23, 2016
Current as of:
May 23, 2016
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Rohit K Katial, MD - Allergy and Immunology
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