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Cystic Fibrosis Special Needs Factsheet

What Teachers Should Know

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a genetic disorder that affects the lungs and digestive system. More than 30,000 kids, teens, and young adults in the United States have CF.

The CF gene disrupts the essential balance of salt and water needed to maintain a normal thin coating of fluid and mucus inside the lungs, pancreas, and other organs. The mucus becomes thick, sticky, and hard to move. Normally, mucus in the lungs traps germs, which are then cleared out of the lungs. But in CF, the thick, sticky mucus and the germs it traps remain in the lungs, which can become infected.

In the pancreas, thick mucus blocks enzymes from reaching the intestines to digest nutrients properly, especially fats. That’s why students with CF have problems gaining weight, and have to eat more. There currently is no cure for CF.

CF does not affect cognitive or learning abilities.

Students with CF may:

  • need to go to the restroom often (digestive problems from CF can cause diarrhea and flatulence)
  • take oral or inhaled medication at school
  • need to eat in class
  • cough frequently to clear mucus from the lungs (CF is not contagious)
  • be tired in class due to early-morning breathing therapy or staying awake from coughing at night

What Teachers Can Do

Students with CF may miss class time or be absent due to breathing therapy at home, lung infections, doctor visits, and hospital stays. Your students with CF need special considerations regarding missed instruction, assignments, and testing.

Being active can help loosen mucus in the lungs. Students with CF should be encouraged to participate in physical exercise, sports, and other school activities.

To help students with CF avoid lung infections, encourage all your students to wash their hands with soap and water or sanitizer after using the bathroom, coughing, sneezing, or playing outside at recess.

Make sure your students with CF know they can:

  • leave the classroom as needed, without asking, to go to the restroom or to cough in the hallway
  • eat in class without asking

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: August 2013