What is cystic fibrosis?
Cystic fibrosis (CF) is an inherited, chronic disease that affects the sweat and mucus glands in the body. CF can affect many parts of a child’s body, though most often the lungs, sinuses, digestive system, pancreas and sex organs. People with CF have unusually thick, sticky mucus. This mucus can clog the lungs, leading to lung infections, and block enzymes in the pancreas from absorbing food correctly.
The symptoms of CF differ for each child. Some children may have symptoms soon after birth, while others may not show signs of CF until they are older. Some early signs of CF can include:
- chronic diarrhea
- frequent sinus infections
- salty-tasting skin
- greasy or foul-smelling stools
- frequent pneumonia
- chronic cough
- poor growth
Most newborns are screened for CF shortly after birth. If your child’s doctor suspects CF, he or she will perform a sweat test to determine how much salt it contains. A high level of salt is an indication of CF.
There is no cure for CF, but treatments can help reduce symptoms and slow the progress of the disease.
Treatments may include:
- medications to reduce mucus and help breathing
- antibiotics to treat infections
- exercise to improve overall physical condition
- chest physical therapy to help loosen and clear lung secretions
- nutritional therapy to help improve digestion
- lung transplant may be an option for children with end-stage lung disease to replace diseased lungs with a healthy pair of lungs
Learn more about Pediatric Pulmonology, Allergy, Immunology and Sleep services at Boston Children’s Health Physicians.