There’s currently no cure for cystic fibrosis, but the good news is that the outlook for patients suffering from this illness has generally improved compared to several decades ago. This is mainly due to treatment methods that can help:1
- Loosen and remove mucus from the lungs
- Prevent and control lung infections
- Alleviate blockages in the intestines
- Prevent dehydration
- Adequately nourish the body
Conventional Medications for Cystic Fibrosis
Many doctors usually prescribe antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and bronchodilators to clear mucus from a person’s lungs.2 However, make sure to be aware of the potential effects that these medications may have on your health.
For example, antibiotics, which are given to CF patients who have lung infections, not only contribute to the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria,3 but can also severely hamper your gut health and cause even more damaging health problems.
However, if there’s no other choice but to take antibiotics, make sure that you consume probiotics as well, either before or after taking the medications, to maintain an optimal ratio of gut bacteria.
Airway Clearance Techniques (ACTs)
These are specialized techniques that aim to keep the airways and lungs clear of mucus. A physiotherapist can help assist you in performing these correctly. The two most basic airway clearance techniques are coughing and huffing.
Coughing can effectively expel mucus from larger airways but not from the smaller ones. For this reason, coughing and huffing is done with other ACTs. Make sure that when coughing, you cover your mouth with a tissue to avoid spreading germs. Coughing in your inner elbow may be a good option if you don’t have a tissue. Wash your hands properly after doing this.
Meanwhile, huffing is done by breathing in and holding your breath before exhaling it actively — just like how you exhale into a mirror to steam it up. Doing this allows air to get behind the mucus, separating it from the lung wall so it can be expelled. While it’s not as forceful as a cough, it may work better and be less tiring.4
The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation gives step-by-step instructions on how to do the huff coughing technique:5
"1. Sit up straight with chin tilted slightly up and mouth open.
2. Take a slow deep breath to fill lungs about three-quarters full.
3. Hold breath for two or three seconds.
4. Exhale forcefully, but slowly, in a continuous exhalation to move mucus from the smaller to the larger airways.
5. Repeat this maneuver two more times and then follow with one strong cough to clear mucus from the larger airways.
6. Do a cycle of four to five huff coughs as part of your airway clearance."
Other types of airway clearance techniques include:6
- Active cycle of breathing techniques (ACBT) — This involves a sequence of relaxed breathing, and then deep breathing exercises followed by huffing.
- Modified postural drainage — This involves modifying your position so that mucus can be better expelled from your lungs.
- Autogenic drainage — This is a series of gentle breathing techniques to help expel mucus.
- Using airway clearance devices — These handheld tools use air pressure and vibration to remove mucus from your airways.
Chest Physical Therapy (CPT)
Known as chest clapping or percussion, this technique involves pounding your chest and back with your hands to loosen mucus in your lungs. Do this while sitting down or lying on your stomach with your head down, to better drain the mucus.
CPT can be uncomfortable, though, so some people use devices like an electric chest clapper, inflatable therapy vest and other devices that cause vibrations to help better loosen the mucus.
Aerobic exercises that cause you to breathe harder are said to help loosen mucus in your airways, so you can easily expel it. This may also allow you to cut back on CPT sessions. However, remember that you expel higher amounts of salt when you sweat, so make sure to keep the salt levels in your blood at optimal levels. Check with your physician first before doing aerobic exercises.7
Proper Nutrition Is Important for Cystic Fibrosis Patients
Those who suffer from this illness must get an ample amount of nutrition so they can develop normally and avoid frequently becoming sick. But most people with cystic fibrosis find it difficult to digest foods and absorb their nutrients; in addition, the pancreas becomes damaged over time, which leads to the same problem.
Hence, CF patients must take digestive enzymes with every meal. This assists in ensuring proper digestion. The number of capsules to be taken depends on the food being ingested.8 Patients also need foods that are high in energy and are rich in protein and healthy fats. This will help compensate for the wasted amounts, since their food is not fully digested.9
Home Remedies for Cystic Fibrosis
Aside from the strategies mentioned above, there are holistic remedies that may help alleviate the symptoms brought on by this ailment, and that may reduce your risk for lung infections. Here are some you can try:
Garlic — The natural volatile components in garlic help eliminate certain bacteria strains and boost your resistance to these infections.10 Add it to your meals or eat garlic raw.
Ginseng — Its impressive antibacterial properties can help eliminate bacterial infections that can attack your lungs.11
Cinnamon12 and clove oils13 — These may help reduce the pathogenicity and virulence of bacteria, which may then be less likely to progress to serious lung infections.
Papaya — It works against harmful bacteria strains, both of which may be linked to lung problems.14
Curcumin — This compound found in turmeric can reduce lung inflammation and exhibits antibacterial properties.15
Licorice — Some of its potent organic compounds can reduce pulmonary inflammation.16,17
Green tea — It contains catechins and other organic compounds that are linked to healthier respiratory systems, reduced infections and better immune system health. It also soothes the respiratory system and eliminates lung inflammation.18
Do You Need a Lung Transplant?
A lung transplant is an option that is sometimes offered to patients with severe cystic fibrosis. In this procedure, your unhealthy lungs are removed, and healthy, well-functioning lungs from a donor are transplanted into your body. It’s a highly complex process, and while it can improve a CF patient’s longevity, it still comes with risks, as it’s a major type of surgery.
For one, a lung transplant may expose you to organ rejection, infections, airway problems and other complications.19 What’s more, you will still have the disease in other parts of your body.20 Before considering a lung transplant, discuss your options with your physician thoroughly, so you can be aware of the potential long-term risks to your health and quality of life.