Most cystic fibrosis patients suffer from excessive mucus build up in the lungs and respiratory organs. This mucus is a normal substance found in every person but in patients with cystic fibrosis it becomes abnormally thick and sticky. It sticks to the lining of the passageways that go to the lungs and digestive tracts and disrupts the work of those organs.
What Is It and How Does It Work?
The thick mucus that is clinging to the linings of the air passages and lungs must be dislodged and removed. There are several ways removing the mucus. Many have been used since the disease was first diagnosed and named in the 1940s. New treatments are being discovered every year and the average life span of a CF patient has risen from 16 to the late 30s.
One of the most classic methods of dislodging the thick mucus is called chest percussion. This involves tapping on the chest and the back.
This seems a cruel way to ease the suffering of a cystic fibrosis patient but has been effective. The parent of a CF child is taught how to tap the chest and back to loosen the mucus and without hurting the child. Another method is to change the patients position as often as possible.
New devices are being used now to loosen and dislodge the thick mucus from the lungs including a vibrating vest. The patient wears the vest and it vibrates, loosening the mucus allowing it to be expelled from the body. There are breathing devices used now available to help rid the body of the mucus buildup.
The OPEP, which is an oscillatory positive expiratory pressure device, can be used to loosen the mucus. Exhaling into this device creates vibrations that can loosen the mucus in the lungs and airways.
In severe cases of cystic fibrosis a doctor may prescribe an oxygen machine. These are used for patients who have damaged lung capacity from the damage mucus has done to the lungs. This condition could be potentially life threatening and a constant supply of oxygen may help.
There are many types of oxygen machines on the market including portable oxygen tanks you can take with you when you go out. No longer is a patient confined to his or her house with a big green oxygen tank sitting next to them. There are machines that provide a constant flow of oxygen. It can be set in one room of the house but have long enough hoses to allow the patient to freely roam in their home.
Sometimes, a medical doctor may recommend a lung transplant. The conditions need to be just right for the patient to be put on a list for a potential lung transplant.
A lung transplant will not cure cystic fibrosis. Candidates for lung transplants should not have severe damage to other parts of their body, have cancer, are obese, have HIV, or are susceptible to a major psychiatric illness. Patients who do not have these severe complications can be considered for a lung transplant.