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Theophylline poisoning

Holly Perry, MD
Section Editors
Michele M Burns, MD, MPH
Stephen J Traub, MD
Deputy Editor
James F Wiley, II, MD, MPH


This topic will review the clinical features and management of theophylline overdose in infants, children, and adults.


Historically, theophylline has had two primary indications: as a bronchodilator for patients with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and as an agent to treat apnea and bradycardia in premature newborns.

Nevertheless, theophylline remains an important drug:

It is still used within the United States to treat apnea and bradycardia of prematurity and remains widely used in countries outside the United States as a bronchodilator.

Research is on-going to find other uses for this powerful agent. Indications which have been explored include treatment of post-lumbar puncture headache [1], prevention of nephropathy due to contrast agents [2], lymphedema [3], out of hospital cardiac arrest [4], prevention of obstructive sleep apnea [5], reversal of bradycardia in spinal cord injury patients [6], and hyposmia (loss of smell) [7].

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Literature review current through: Oct 2017. | This topic last updated: Dec 12, 2016.
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