Theophylline | Side Effects, Dosage, Uses & More
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Generic Name:

theophylline, Oral tablet

Generic Name:
Quibron T/SR,Respbid,T-Phyl,Theo-Dur,Theochron,Theolair SR,Uni-Dur,Uniphyl

theophylline, Oral tablet

All Brands

  • Quibron T/SR (Discontinued)
  • Respbid (Discontinued)
  • T-Phyl (Discontinued)
  • Theo-Dur (Discontinued)
  • Theochron
  • Theolair SR (Discontinued)
  • Uni-Dur (Discontinued)
  • Uniphyl
A discontinued drug is a drug that has been taken off the market due to safety issues, shortage of raw materials, or low market demand.
SECTION 1 of 5

Highlights for theophylline

Oral tablet
1

Theophylline is used to treat the symptoms of asthma or other lung conditions that block your airways (airflow obstruction), such as emphysema or chronic bronchitis. This is used for long-term treatment.

2

This drug comes in the form of an oral tablet, oral capsule, or oral solution. You take these drugs by mouth.

3

Theophylline is available as brand-name drugs called Elixophyllin, Theo-24, and Uniphyl. It’s also available as a generic drug. The extended-release capsule isn’t available as a generic drug.

4

More common side effects of this drug include nausea, vomiting, headache, and trouble sleeping.

5

Theophylline can cause serious side effects if your dose is too high. These include seizure, severe vomiting, and irregular heart rate. Your doctor will watch your drug levels closely to make sure your dose isn’t too high.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION

Nausea and vomiting

These may be signs of too much theophylline. Your doctor may check the amount of this drug in your blood.

Smoking

Smoking cigarettes or marijuana can affect the amount of theophylline in your blood. Tell your doctor if you smoke.

Drug features

Theophylline is a prescription drug. It’s available in these forms: oral solution, 12-hour extended-release tablet, 24-hour extended-release tablet, 24-hour extended-release capsule, and intravenous (IV), which is only given by a healthcare provider.

Theophylline is available as a generic drug. Generic drugs usually cost less. In some cases, they may not be available in every strength or form as the brand-name version. Talk to your doctor to see if the generic version will work for you.

Theophylline may be used as part of a combination therapy. This means you may need to take it with other medications.

Why it's used

Theophylline is used to treat the symptoms of asthma or other lung conditions that block your airways (airflow obstruction), such as emphysema or chronic bronchitis.

How it works

Theophylline belongs to a class of drugs called methylxanthines. A class of drugs is a group of medications that work in a similar way. These drugs are often used to treat similar conditions.

More Details

How it works

Theophylline belongs to a class of drugs called methylxanthines. A class of drugs is a group of medications that work in a similar way. These drugs are often used to treat similar conditions.

Theophylline works by opening the airways in your lungs. It does this by relaxing the muscles and decreasing the response to substances that cause your airways to constrict. This makes it easier for you to breathe.

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SECTION 2 of 5

theophylline Side Effects

Oral tablet

More Common Side Effects

Some of the more common side effects that can occur with use of theophylline include:

  • nausea

  • vomiting

  • headache

  • trouble sleeping

If these effects are mild, they may go away within a few days or a couple of weeks. If they’re more severe or don’t go away, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

Serious Side Effects

Call your doctor right away if you have serious side effects. Call 9-1-1 if your symptoms feel life threatening or if you think you’re having a medical emergency. Serious side effects and their symptoms can include the following:

  • irregular heart rate. Symptoms can include:

    • shortness of breath
    • dizziness
    • fluttering or pain in your chest
  • seizure. Symptoms can include:

    • confusion
    • trouble talking
    • tremors or twitching
    • loss of muscle tone or tense muscles
Pharmacist's Advice
Healthline Pharmacist Editorial Team

Contact your doctor if you have nausea, vomiting, a headache that won’t go away, trouble sleeping, or a racing heart. These symptoms can mean that you have too much theophylline in your blood.

Theophylline doesn’t cause drowsiness.

Disclaimer: Our goal is to provide you with the most relevant and current information. However, because drugs affect each person differently, we cannot guarantee that this information includes all possible side effects. This information is not a substitute for medical advice. Always discuss possible side effects with a healthcare provider who knows your medical history.
SECTION 3 of 5

theophylline May Interact with Other Medications

Oral tablet

Theophylline can interact with other medications, vitamins, or herbs you may be taking. An interaction is when a substance changes the way a drug works. This can be harmful or prevent the drug from working well.

To help avoid interactions, your doctor should manage all of your medications carefully. Be sure to tell your doctor about all medications, vitamins, or herbs you’re taking. To find out how this drug might interact with something else you’re taking, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

Alcohol interaction

The use of drinks that contain alcohol can increase your risk of side effects from theophylline. If you drink alcohol, talk to your doctor.

Medications that might interact with this drug

Alcohol abuse drugs

These medicines may increase the levels of theophylline in your body. This means that you may have more side effects.

These drugs include:

  • disulfiram

Anxiety drugs

You may need a larger dose of these drugs for them to work when taken with theophylline.

These include:

  • diazepam
  • flurazepam
  • lorazepam
  • midazolam

Blood clot drugs

These medicines may increase the levels of theophylline in your body. This means that you may have more side effects.

These drugs include:

  • pentoxifylline
  • ticlopidine

Depression drugs

These medicines may increase the levels of theophylline in your body. This means that you may have more side effects.

These drugs include:

  • fluvoxamine

Gout drugs

These medicines may increase the levels of theophylline in your body. This means that you may have more side effects.

These drugs include:

  • allopurinol

Heart rhythm problems drug

These medicines may increase the levels of theophylline in your body. This means that you may have more side effects.

These drugs include:

  • mexiletine
  • propafenone
  • verapamil
  • propranolol

Hepatitis drugs

These medicines may increase the levels of theophylline in your body. This means that you may have more side effects.

These drugs include:

  • interferon alfa-2a

Hormone problems/birth control drugs

These medicines may increase the levels of theophylline in your body. This means that you may have more side effects.

These drugs include:

  • estrogen

Immune disorders drugs

These medicines may increase the levels of theophylline in your body. This means that you may have more side effects.

These drugs include:

  • methotrexate

Infection drugs

These medicines may increase the levels of theophylline in your body. This means that you may have more side effects.

These drugs include:

  • ciprofloxacin
  • clarithromycin
  • erythromycin

Ketamine

This drug may increase your risk of side effects from theophylline.

Lithium

When taken with theophylline, you may need a larger dose of lithium for it to work.

Other drugs

These medicines may decrease the levels of theophylline in your body. This means that it may not work to treat your condition.

These drugs include:

  • carbamazepine
  • rifampin
  • St. John’s wort

Seizure drugs

These medicines may decrease the levels of theophylline in your body. This means that it may not work to treat your condition.

These drugs include:

  • phenobarbital
  • phenytoin

Stomach acid drugs

These medicines may increase the levels of theophylline in your body. This means that you may have more side effects.

These drugs include:

  • cimetidine

Disclaimer: Our goal is to provide you with the most relevant and current information. However, because drugs interact differently in each person, we cannot guarantee that this information includes all possible interactions. This information is not a substitute for medical advice. Always speak with your healthcare provider about possible interactions with all prescription drugs, vitamins, herbs and supplements, and over-the-counter drugs that you are taking.

People with liver disease

If you have liver disease, you may not be able to clear theophylline from your body well. This may increase the amount of this drug in your body and cause more side effects.

People with heart failure

If you have heart failure, you may not be able to clear theophylline from your body well. This may increase the amount of this drug in your body and cause more side effects.

People with ulcers

If you have ulcers, theophylline may make them worse.

People with seizures

If you have seizures, this drug may make them worse.

People with an irregular heart rate

If you have an irregular heart rate, theophylline may make it worse.

People with low thyroid

If you have low thyroid, you may not be able to clear theophylline from your body well. This may increase the amount of this drug in your body and cause more side effects.

Pregnant women

Theophylline is a category C pregnancy drug. That means two things:

  1. Research in animals has shown adverse effects to the fetus when the mother takes the drug.
  2. There haven’t been enough studies done in humans to be certain how the drug might affect the fetus.

Talk to your doctor if you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant. This drug should be used only if the potential benefit justifies the potential risk to the fetus.

Women who are breast-feeding

Theophylline may pass into breast milk and may cause side effects in a child who is breast-fed.

Talk to your doctor if you breast-feed your baby. You may need to decide whether to stop breast-feeding or stop taking this medication.

For seniors

Theophylline is cleared slower in adults over the age of 60 years. Your doctor may monitor you more closely for side effects. The amount of theophylline in your blood may also be monitored more closely.

For children

Theophylline is safe for children. Theophylline is removed more slowly from the body in children under 1 year old. Your doctor should monitor your infant carefully if they take this drug.

When to call the doctor

Call your doctor if you have trouble breathing or symptoms of your condition worsen.

SECTION 4 of 5

How to Take theophylline (Dosage)

Oral tablet

All possible dosages and forms may not be included here. Your dose, form, and how often you take it will depend on:

  • your age
  • the condition being treated
  • how severe your condition is
  • other medical conditions you have
  • how you react to the first dose

What are you taking this medication for?

Asthma or other lung diseases

Brand: Uniphyl

Form: 24-hour extended-release tablet
Strengths: 400 mg, 600 mg

Generic: theophylline

Form: 12-hour extended-release tablet
Strengths: 100 mg, 200 mg, 300 mg, 450 mg
Adult dosage (ages 18–59 years)

The usual starting dose is 300–400 mg per day. After 3 days, your dose may be increased to 400–600 mg per day if you don’t have any side effects. After 3 more days, if your dose is tolerated and more medication is needed, your dose may be adjusted based on the level of theophylline in your blood.

Your dose may be divided and given 2 or more times per day if you’re taking the oral solution. Other forms of this drug are taken once per day.

Child dosage (ages 16–17 years)

The usual starting dose is 300–400 mg per day. After 3 days, your dose may be increased to 400–600 mg per day if you don’t have any side effects. After 3 more days, if your dose is tolerated and more medication is needed, your dose may be adjusted based on the level of theophylline in your blood.

Your dose may be divided and given 2 or more times per day depending on the type of theophylline you’re taking. If you’re using the extended-release version, you’ll only take it once per day.

Child dosage (ages 1–15 years who weigh more than 45 kg)

The starting dose is 300–400 mg per day. After 3 days, your doctor may increase your dose to 400–600 mg per day. After 3 more days, your dose may be adjusted as needed based on the level of theophylline in your blood.

Your dose may be divided and given 2 or more times per day depending on the type of theophylline you’re using. If you’re using the extended-release version, you’ll only take it once per day.

Child dosage (ages 1–15 years who weigh less than 45 kg)

The starting dose is 12–14 mg/kg per day up to 300 mg per day. After 3 days, your doctor may increase your dose to 16 mg/kg daily up to a maximum of 400 mg per day if you don’t have any side effects. After 3 more days, if the dose is tolerated, it may be increased to 20 mg/kg daily up to a maximum of 600 mg per day.

This drug is given in divided doses every 4–6 hours. Your dose will be adjusted based on the amount of theophylline in the blood.

Child dosage (babies born at full-term up to 12 months of age)

Your doctor will calculate your child’s dose based on their age and body weight.

The dose will be adjusted based on the amount of theophylline in the blood.

  • For infants 0–25 weeks: The total daily dose should be divided into 3 equal doses taken by mouth every 8 hours.
  • For infants 26 weeks of age and older: The total daily dose should be divided into 4 equal doses taken by mouth every 6 hours.
Child dosage (babies born prematurely less than 12 months old)
  • Babies younger than 24 days: 1mg/kg of body weight
  • Babies 24 days and older: 1.5mg/kg of body weight
Senior dosage (ages 60 years and older)

The kidneys of older adults may not work as well as they used to. This can cause your body to process drugs more slowly. As a result, more of a drug stays in your body for a longer time. This increases your risk of side effects.

Your doctor may start you on a lowered dose or a different medication schedule. This can help keep levels of this drug from building up too much in your body.

Your maximum dose per day shouldn’t be higher than 400 mg.

Special considerations

People with risk factors for reduced clearance, such as liver disease: Your maximum dose per day shouldn’t be higher than 400 mg.

Disclaimer: Our goal is to provide you with the most relevant and current information. However, because drugs affect each person differently, we cannot guarantee that this list includes all possible dosages. This information is not a substitute for medical advice. Always to speak with your doctor or pharmacist about dosages that are right for you.
Pharmacist's Advice
Healthline Pharmacist Editorial Team

Theophylline comes with risks if you don’t take it as prescribed.

If you stop taking the drug or don’t take it at all

Your symptoms, including trouble breathing, may get worse. This can be fatal (cause death).

If you miss doses or don’t take the drug on schedule

Your medication may not work as well or may stop working completely. For this drug to work well, a certain amount needs to be in your body at all times.

If you take too much

You could have dangerous levels of the drug in your body. You may have the following symptoms:

  • severe vomiting
  • nausea
  • feeling restless or irritated
  • seizures
  • heart rhythm problems

If you think you’ve taken too much of the drug, act right away. Call your doctor or local Poison Control Center, or go to the nearest emergency room.

What to do if you miss a dose

Take the next dose at the usually scheduled time. Don’t make up the missed dose.

How to tell if the drug is working

You may be able to breathe better.

Theophylline is used for long-term treatment.

Take the 12-hour and 24-hour tablets with food

Don’t take extended-release tablets with a high-fat meal.

Taking your dose too close to a high-fat meal may increase your theophylline levels and cause bad side effects.

Store theophylline at room temperature

Keep it from 59–86°F (15–30°C).

Keep it away from high temperatures.

Travel

When traveling with your medication:

  • Always carry your medication with you, such as in your carry-on bag.
  • Don’t worry about airport X-ray machines. They can’t hurt your medication.
  • You may need to show airport staff the pharmacy label for your medication. Always carry the original prescription-labeled box with you.
  • Don’t put this medication in your car’s glove compartment or leave it in the car. Be sure to avoid doing this when the weather is very hot or very cold.

Self-management

Your doctor may have you monitor your lung function and show you how to do this at home. You may be asked to record your symptoms or to check how well your lungs are working with a peak flow meter.

Clinical monitoring

You and your doctor should monitor certain health issues. This can help make sure you stay safe while you take this drug. These issues include:

Theophylline blood levels. This will help your doctor decide if you’re taking the right dose. Your doctor will monitor these levels as necessary. The results will determine if you need a higher or lower dose.

Are there any alternatives?

There are other drugs available to treat your condition. Some may be better suited for you than others. Talk to your doctor about other drug options that may work for you.

What does the pill look like?

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SECTION 5 of 5

How Much Does theophylline Cost?

Oral tablet

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Lowest price for theophylline

Membership warehouse $18.26
Kroger Pharmacy $18.36
Kmart $18.46
These prices represent the lowest priced national pharmacies for theophylline on GoodRx. They may be lower than your insurance.

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These prices represent the lowest priced national pharmacies for theophylline on GoodRx. They may be lower than your insurance.

Show Sources

Content developed in collaboration with University of Illinois-Chicago, Drug Information Group

Medically reviewed by Creighton University, Center for Drug Information and Evidence-Based Practice on September 18, 2015

Disclaimer: Healthline has made every effort to make certain that all information is factually correct, comprehensive, and up-to-date. However, this article should not be used as a substitute for the knowledge and expertise of a licensed healthcare professional. You should always consult your doctor or other healthcare professional before taking any medication. The drug information contained herein is subject to change and is not intended to cover all possible uses, directions, precautions, warnings, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or adverse effects. The absence of warnings or other information for a given drug does not indicate that the drug or drug combination is safe, effective, or appropriate for all patients or all specific uses.
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