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Caffeine & Asthma

By Robin Elizabeth Margolis ; Updated August 14, 2017

Caffeine is used by some people to help manage asthma. Scientists have found that caffeine has a helpful effect on asthma symptoms because it is chemically similar to a well-known asthma drug. While caffeine should not replace an asthmatic's regular medications, it can be useful as a back-up home remedy and as daily assistance for asthma symptoms.


Asthma is a lung disease in which the lungs are overly sensitive to a wide range of substances and vapors. If you have asthma, breathing in a substance such as pollen or paint vapor can trigger an asthma attack, causing your lungs to produce mucous and become inflamed. The airways in your lungs narrow, making it harder for air to get in. You may feel chest tightness, difficulty breathing, and begin wheezing and coughing. If asthma goes untreated, it can sometime result in death.


Asthma can occur at any age, even in adults who never had any symptoms as children. The American Lung Association warns that asthma is a chronic, incurable condition. The good news is that there are many asthma treatments that can enable asthmatics to lead relatively normal lives. Treatments include inhalers and pills that calm the irritated lung tissue and relax bronchial muscles. Preventative care includes avoiding asthma triggers such as pollen, cigarette smoke, paint, air fresheners, household cleaners and perfumes.


Among the drugs used to treat asthma is theophylline, which relaxes the airway muscles and suppresses the inflammatory response of the lung tissue to triggers. Theophylline and caffeine belong to the same family of plant chemicals. The October 2007 issue of "Molecular Interventions," describes the history and similar chemical structure of theophylline and caffeine. When caffeine is ingested through coffee or other drinks, it is processed by the liver and broken down into several chemicals, including theophylline.


Scientists, curious to determine if caffeine can help asthmatics, have conducted many studies. Six of the most notable related studies are featured in a 2012 review published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Of the 55 asthmatics in these studies, some were given caffeine and others were given placebos. The results showed that caffeine helps asthmatics breathe more easily for 2 to 4 hours after ingestion. Researchers in the study report that even in amounts of 5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight -- or 400 milligrams of caffeine for a 175 pound person -- caffeine showed to be effective against asthma. That is roughly 3 to 4 cups of brewed coffee, according to a report from the University of Utah.

Home Remedy

People with asthma should not throw away their inhalers and pills and start gulping tea. Caffeine cannot replace prescribed medication. Not only are many asthma medications more effective than caffeine, but caffeine can be dangerous to asthmatics suffering from heart trouble and high blood pressure. Asthmatics already taking theophylline should not drink large amounts of caffeine as the chemical cousins can be dangerous when combined. Still, caffeine can be a useful, temporary home remedy for an asthmatic caught at the office with an empty inhaler or stuck in traffic on the way to the pharmacy. It can also provide a pleasant, daily lift to the lungs in addition to the benefits of prescribed medications.

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