Theophylline is a compound that is used to treat asthma in some individuals, that can be quite effective, although not all doctors consider it a first line treatment for this respiratory disorder. This drug helps to open up airways by relaxing smooth muscle tissue, reduces inflammation, and regulates the immune system. All of these properties can make breathing easier for some individuals, particularly when this medication is taken as a prophylactic, meant to prevent asthma attacks. Many individuals do not find that using theophylline for asthma is as effective as corticosteroids, another class of drugs used as an asthma therapy, and has side effects that can be problematic for certain people, which limit its use as a common therapy.
Unlike acute asthma remedies, which are often inhaled, most people use an oral formulation of theophylline for asthma. Commonly, this drug is provided in the form of pills or tablets that are meant to be taken once or twice on a daily basis. Doses are usually based on body weight, and adults often take amounts equal to 5 milligrams (mg) per 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram), moving up to 10 mg per 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) after several days of therapy. Similar doses can be used for acute therapy, but oral drugs can take up to an hour to take effect, which can limit how effective oral theophylline is at treating asthma attacks.
Like other drugs, there is a risk of side effects when taking theophylline for asthma. Adverse events that are associated with this compound can include an elevated heart rate, sleeplessness, anxiety, and nausea. Generally, these effects are due to the stimulant properties that this medication can have. Only certain individuals are extremely susceptible to these effects, and many people that experience them become tolerant to these aspects of the drug after taking it for several days. For some people, however, these unwanted events can be problematic, and they may opt to use substances other than theophylline for asthma.
Other factors can limit the effectiveness of theophylline for asthma cases. Some people can develop a physical dependence on this drug when using it on a daily basis, and if they abruptly stop taking it, their symptoms may increase. Younger children may be prone to difficulties in tolerating some of the side effects of this medication, which may outweigh its benefits. Limitations like these have led some respiratory doctors to recommend that theophylline be used mainly as a combination therapy with corticosteroids, when these steroids do not provide enough relief from this condition on their own.