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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. Kids with CF are prone to repeated lung infections.

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 or drink 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
  • benefit from having a 504 education plan (make sure the plan states that students with CF can’t be within 6 feet of each other to help prevent the spread of infections that only kids with CF get)

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. Move students with CF away from classmates who are sick.

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
  • carry a water bottle
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: June 2018