Asthma Treatment - Long Term Control Medications - Theophylline

Theophylline is an older prescription medication used for the long-term control of asthma as well as other lung problems such as emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. Theophylline is sold under the brand names Theolair, Uniphyl, and Elixophylline. Its most common generic name is verapamil.

Theophylline is a bronchodilator and a member of the drug class methylxanthine. Caffeine is also a drug in this class. Theophylline treats and prevents symptoms of lung disease such as wheezing, feeling short of air, and tightening of the chest. It works by relaxing and opening the air passages in the lungs and by decreasing any swelling that may be present in the lungs.

Physicians usually try other options such as inhaled steroids and leukotriene modifiers before prescribing theophylline. This is because theophylline has a high rate of side effects, requires routine blood monitoring to make sure that the amount in the bloodstream is effective and is less effective as a single-drug therapy than other classes of medication used to treat lung disease. Sometimes theophylline is used in addition to other medications to achieve or improve symptom management.

The medication is available in both short-term and long-term variations. Short acting versions generally relieve symptoms from six to 12 hours, while long-acting versions may relieve symptoms for up to 24 hours.

Theophylline is designed to control respiratory symptoms and may keep them from appearing altogether. Therefore, it is important for the patient to keep taking the medication at the prescribed dose, even if he or she is not currently experiencing any difficulty breathing.

Available forms of theophylline include tablets, capsules, solutions, and syrups. The medication is most commonly taken as a pill or capsule. It should be stored at no higher than room temperature in a dark-tinted bottle. Patients should avoid exposing it to light or to moisture. For instance, the bathroom is not a good storage place for theophylline because the air may be humid after showers and baths.

The most common side effects of theophylline are gastro-intestinal and include an upset stomach, stomach pain, diarrhea and sometimes vomiting. Other side effects such as headache, restlessness, insomnia and irritability have also been reported.

Theophylline has been associated with some severe side effects that require medical attention. These include a sensation of the heart pounding or racing, an irregular heartbeat, seizures and a rash on the skin.

This medication may interact with other medications and substances. A diet high in caffeine, for instance, may increase side effects. Theophylline may also cause certain cold and flu medications to work less effectively. For these reasons, patients starting theophylline should be sure to give their doctors and pharmacists a complete list of their current medications - both prescription and over-the-counter medications.

From an earlier generation of asthma treatment medications, today theophylline is rarely used by itself as a long-term asthma control medication. It is more often used in conjunction with other therapies. Its propensity for interacting with other substances and its side effects make it a less than favorite choice of many clinicians.