Important Facts About Theophylline

How Does It Work?

Normally, air moves easily into and out of the lungs through a network of airways. During an asthma attack, however, the muscles around these airways tighten. This narrows the airways and makes it harder to breathe. This is called bronchospasm.
Theophylline is part of a class of drugs called methylxanthines or xanthine derivatives. It is a naturally occurring product that is chemically similar to caffeine. Although it has been used to treat asthma for over 100 years, theophylline use is decreasing due to the availability of more effective and safer alternatives for the treatment of asthma.
Theophylline causes the muscles of the airway to relax, which opens up the airways and allows more air to get into and through the lungs. It also helps prevent allergic reactions and inflammation that can lead to asthma attacks.

When and How to Take Theophylline

Following are some general considerations for when and how to take theophylline:
  • The medication comes in various forms, some of which are taken just once a day. Others are taken several times a day.
  • Many theophylline products should be taken on an empty stomach (at least one hour before or two hours after a meal). It is best to take theophylline on an empty stomach, unless you are certain that it is okay to take your particular product with food.
  • Theophylline should be taken at the same times each day to maintain even levels of the drug in your blood.
  • For the medication to work properly, it must be taken as prescribed. It will not work if you stop taking it.


The dosage that your healthcare provider recommends will vary depending on a number of factors, including:
  • The particular theophylline product
  • Your age
  • Other medical conditions you may have
  • Other medications you may be taking.
As always, do not adjust your dose unless your healthcare provider specifically instructs you to do so.
(Click Theophylline Dosage for more information.)
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Theophylline Drug Information

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