We compared the bronchodilating effects of intravenously administered enprofylline (2 mg/kg) with nebulized terbutaline (10 mg) in patients presenting to hospital with acute asthma in a multicenter double-blind parallel study. One hundred twenty three patients were randomized into the study, and 69 of these fulfilled the inclusion criteria and a retrospective time to study entry criterion; 34 received enprofylline and 35 received terbutaline. There was no significant difference in maximum increase in forced expired volume in 1 second (FEV1) between the enprofylline group (0.24 +/- 0.33 L) and the terbutaline group (0.25 +/- 0.28 L) (p greater than 0.05), nor for the increase in FEV1 over the 1-hour study period. Tremor was reported more in the group receiving terbutaline, and nausea was reported more in the group receiving enprofylline. Two patients experienced hypotension and one patient had a vasovagal episode with enprofylline treatment. Both agents acted as bronchodilators with similar efficacy in patients with acute asthma in this study.