Management of asthma and chronic airflow limitation: Are methylxanthines obsolete?
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The widespread popularity of methylxanthine derivatives should be reassessed in light of current evidence. These drugs are relatively weak bronchodilators, respiratory muscle stimulants and inotropic agents and adverse effects, sometimes life threatening, occur fairly frequently. In contrast, beta-2 adrenergic and anticholinergic bronchodilator aerosols used in asthma or chronic obstructive lung disease, and the prophylactic anti-inflammatory aerosols of corticosteroids and cromolyn provide a spectrum of therapeutic choices which address both the inflammatory and bronchoconstrictor components of acute and chronic airflow limitation. Aerosol bronchodilators, in general, are more potent, are virtually free of important side effects, and do not require costly serum level monitoring. Adrenoceptor agonists, together with inhaled steroids, should be considered first-line drugs of choice in managing patients with reversible airflow obstruction associated with asthma or COPD, while methylxanthines should be relegated to the position of third or fourth line drugs, if they are to be used at all. If they are, they should be used with great caution and close patient supervision and, even then, only if benefit, over and above the aerosol bronchodilators and inhaled anti-inflammatory agents can be demonstrated objectively.
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