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Bronchodilators and Asthma


What Is the Bronchdilator Theophylline?

Theophylline is a relatively weak but inexpensive bronchodilator that has a chemical similar to caffeine. Theophylline relaxes the smooth muscle that surrounds the airways. 

Theophylline is sold as a generic pill or under the brand names Uniphyl, Theo-Dur, Slo-Bid, and Theo-24. Theophylline is available as an oral (pill and liquid) or intravenous (through the vein) drug. Theophylline is available in short and long-acting forms and prevents asthma symptoms, especially nighttime symptoms. It is used less often for asthma, because it requires blood-level monitoring.


What Are the Side Effects of Theophylline?

Side effects of theophylline include:

  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomachache
  • Headache
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Muscle cramps
  • Jittery or nervous feeling
  • Hyperactivity

These side effects may also be a sign of having taken too much medication. Your doctor will check your blood levels of the drug to make sure you are receiving the proper amount.

Always tell your doctors if you take theophylline for asthma, because certain medications, such as some antibiotics, seizure medicines, and ulcer medicines, can interact with theophylline. Also, make sure your doctor knows about any other medical conditions you may have, because some diseases and illnesses can change how your body responds to theophylline.

And keep in mind that not only is smoking and exposure to cigarette smoke especially dangerous for those with asthma, but it can also interfere with how your body responds to theophylline. Therefore, it is best to avoid smoke and cigarette smoking.

What About Over-the-Counter (OTC) Asthma Drugs?

Over-the-counter asthma drugs (such as Primatene Mist and Bronkaid) contain adrenaline, which relaxes the muscles around the airways. They provide short-term relief of asthma symptoms but do not control asthma symptoms or prevent asthma attacks. People with high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid disease, or heart disease should not take adrenaline-containing medications. 

If you are using a bronchodilator to relieve asthma symptoms but are getting little relief or you're using the bronchodilator more than twice a week, talk with your doctor, an asthma specialist, or your pharmacist. There are other medications available to give you better asthma control so you can live an active life.


WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Varnada Karriem-Norwood, MD on December 16, 2012
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