A Teacher's Guide to Cystic Fibrosis
The following answers to frequently asked questions are intended to help teachers understand and support students who have CF.
What is cystic fibrosis?
CF is a life-threatening genetic disease. It is not contagious and does not affect cognitive ability. In people with CF, a defective gene causes the body to produce unusually thick, sticky mucus that can clog the lungs, pancreas and other organs. This buildup can lead to severe respiratory and digestive problems that may warrant special accommodations in a school setting.
CF affects each individual differently. Some people with CF are in good general health, while others are severely limited by the disease and are unable to attend school regularly. It is important that you meet with your student’s parents and CF health care providers to determine the best way to support your student’s unique needs.
In people with CF, mucus can obstruct the digestive system and prevent proper absorbtion of nutrients, which can slow growth. To boost growth and nutrition, children with CF follow a special diet, which includes pancreatic enzymes, vitamins and high-calorie, high-fat foods.
Meet with your student and his or her parents about ways to help your student maintain a healthy diet. Accommodations may include allowing the child with CF more time to eat during lunch, to snack throughout the school day and to take enzymes and nutritional supplements to increase calories.
Although enzymes help with digestion, people with CF may still experience abdominal pain, foul-smelling gas and/or diarrhea. This is why it is important to:
People with CF tend to cough a lot to clear mucus from their lungs. In a classroom, a student with CF may feel self-conscious about coughing in front of others. You can help your student feel more comfortable by:
Although some people with CF have difficulty breathing and may tire easily, regular exercise is generally encouraged because it helps loosen the mucus that clogs the lungs and strengthen the muscles used to breathe. Exercise also promotes healthy social interaction with peers.
To help determine the appropriate level of physical activity for your student:
Dehydration is a real concern for people with CF who are active because they can lose more salt when they sweat than those who do not have CF. During exercise, encourage your student to:
The thick mucus that builds up in the lungs of people with CF allows germs to thrive and can lead to serious lung infections. As a result, people with CF are more vulnerable to getting sick by catching germs from others who are sick and particularly from other people who also have CF.
The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s Infection Prevention and Control Guidelines help people with CF, their families and caregivers reduce the spread of germs in everyday life, including school settings, and provide the following recommendations:
While lung infections in people with CF pose no danger to the public, they do pose a significant danger to others with CF. If you are aware of there being more than one person with CF at your school (unless they are siblings from the same household), it is essential that they keep a safe distance from each other. Every effort should be made to keep people with CF at least 6 feet apart from each other, and they should not sit near each other in class or on a school bus and never share water bottles or other personal items.
Although most people with CF do not have a visible disability, they may require special accommodations for frequent absences or medical treatments. Students and their families may want to outline these accommodations in what is known as an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), or 504 Plan.
These plans protect the rights of people with CF to access free and appropriate education in public school settings. As a teacher of a student with CF, you play an important role by providing input and implementing these plans with your student, their families and your colleagues to ensure your student’s specific needs are met so that they can achieve their academic goals.
For more information on CF, the CF Foundation and how you can help, please: