Theophylline is used to prevent and treat wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness caused by asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and other lung diseases. It relaxes and opens air passages in the lungs, making it easier to breathe.
This medication is sometimes prescribed for other uses; ask your doctor or pharmacist for more information.
Theophylline comes as a tablet, capsule, solution, and syrup to take by mouth. It usually is taken every 6, 8, 12, or 24 hours. Follow the directions on your prescription label carefully, and ask your doctor or pharmacist to explain any part you do not understand. Take theophylline exactly as directed. Do not take more or less of it or take it more often than prescribed by your doctor.
Take this medication with a full glass of water on an empty stomach, at least 1 hour before or 2 hours after a meal. Do not chew or crush the extended-release (long-acting) tablets; swallow them whole. Extended-release capsules (e.g., Theo-Dur Sprinkles) may be swallowed whole or opened and the contents mixed with soft food and swallowed without chewing.
Theophylline controls symptoms of asthma and other lung diseases but does not cure them. Continue to take theophylline even if you feel well. Do not stop taking theophylline without talking to your doctor.
Theophylline is sometimes used to treat breathing problems in premature infants. Talk to your doctor about the possible risks of using this drug for your baby's condition.
Before taking theophylline,
- tell your doctor and pharmacist if you are allergic to theophylline or any other drugs.
- tell your doctor and pharmacist what prescription medications you are taking, especially allopurinol (Zyloprim), azithromycin (Zithromax), carbamazepine (Tegretol), cimetidine (Tagamet), ciprofloxacin (Cipro), clarithromycin (Biaxin), diuretics ('water pills'), erythromycin, lithium (Eskalith, Lithobid), oral contraceptives, phenytoin (Dilantin), prednisone (Deltasone), propranolol (Inderal), rifampin (Rifadin), tetracycline (Sumycin), and other medications for infections or heart disease.
- tell your doctor and pharmacist what nonprescription medications and vitamins you are taking, including ephedrine, epinephrine, phenylephrine, phenylpropanolamine, or pseudoephedrine. Many nonprescription products contain these drugs (e.g., diet pills and medications for colds and asthma), so check labels carefully. Do not take these medications without talking to your doctor; they can increase the side effects of theophylline.
- tell your doctor if you have or have ever had seizures, ulcers, heart disease, an overactive or underactive thyroid gland, high blood pressure, or liver disease or if you have a history of alcohol abuse.
- tell your doctor if you are pregnant, plan to become pregnant, or are breast-feeding. If you become pregnant while taking theophylline, call your doctor.
- tell your doctor if you use tobacco products. Cigarette smoking may decrease the effectiveness of theophylline.
Drinking or eating foods high in caffeine, like coffee, tea, cocoa, and chocolate, may increase the side effects caused by theophylline. Avoid large amounts of these substances while you are taking theophylline.
Take the missed dose as soon as you remember it. However, if it is almost time for the next dose, skip the missed dose and continue your regular dosing schedule. Do not take a double dose to make up for a missed one. If you become severely short of breath, call your doctor.
Theophylline may cause side effects. Tell your doctor if any of these symptoms are severe or do not go away.
- upset stomach
- stomach pain
If you experience any of the following symptoms, call your doctor immediately:
- increased or rapid heart rate
- irregular heartbeat
- skin rash
If you experience a serious side effect, you or your doctor may send a report to the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting program online [at Web Site] or by phone [1-800-332-1088].
Keep this medication in the container it came in, tightly closed, and out of reach of children. Store it at room temperature and away from excess heat and moisture (not in the bathroom). Throw away any medication that is outdated or no longer needed. Talk to your pharmacist about the proper disposal of your medication.
In case of overdose, call your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222. If the victim has collapsed or is not breathing, call local emergency services at 911.
Keep all appointments with your doctor and the laboratory. Your doctor will order certain lab tests to check your response to theophylline.
Do not change from one brand of theophylline to another without talking to your doctor.
Do not let anyone else take your medication. Ask your pharmacist any questions you have about refilling your prescription.
It is important for you to keep a written list of all of the prescription and nonprescription (over-the-counter) medicines you are taking, as well as any products such as vitamins, minerals, or other dietary supplements. You should bring this list with you each time you visit a doctor or if you are admitted to a hospital. It is also important information to carry with you in case of emergencies.
¶This branded product is no longer on the market. Generic alternatives may be available.
AHFS® Consumer Medication Information. © Copyright, The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, Inc., 7272 Wisconsin Avenue, Bethesda, Maryland. All Rights Reserved. Duplication for commercial use must be authorized by ASHP.
Last Reviewed: December 21, 2011.