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What is theophylline?

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Practitioner

Sustained-release theophylline (Theo-24, Theochron, Uniphyl) helps to open airways and reduce inflammation in the lungs in people with COPD or asthma. It can also improve your response to corticosteroid drugs.

It is not the first drug a doctor would prescribe for the treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), because it is less effective and has more side effects than newer medications. Theophylline is usually only added when inhaled bronchodilators or corticosteroids aren't controlling your symptoms.

Theophylline is sometimes prescribed, in combination with an inhaled corticosteroid, when asthma is not well controlled with an inhaled corticosteroid and a leukotriene modifier. This combination may be appropriate for people with a poor response to a long-acting beta-agonist, a strong preference for oral therapy, or a concern about cost.  However, it should be used only by adults and children of ages 5 or older. 

This answer was adapted from Sharecare's award-winning AskMD app. Start a consultation now to find out what's causing your symptoms, learn how to manage a condition, or find a doctor.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.