Cystic fibrosis treatments and medications

Advances in medicine and physiotherapy techniques mean that many of the symptoms of cystic fibrosis (CF) can be managed effectively, although the daily treatment burden is still challenging.

  • Lungs

    Medicine to benefit the lungs can be taken by nebuliser (inhaled into the lungs), orally or intravenously (into the veins). Some common examples include:

    • CFTR modulators, such as Kaftrio, Orkambi, Symkevi and Kalydeco
    • Bronchodilator drugs open your airways by relaxing the surrounding muscles, relieving tightness and shortness of breath. Bronchodilators may also be used just before a physiotherapy session to open the airways and help with clearance
    • Antibiotics treat or control persistent infection. For further information download our Consensus document on antibiotics
      • Aminoglycosides are a group of antibiotics used to treat certain infections. Like most medicines, aminoglycosides can cause side effects. Hearing loss is one possible side effect that may be caused by aminoglycoside antibiotics. There is a test called the MT-RNR1 test that looks at your DNA to check if you have a variant (mutation) in the MT-RNR1 gene that means you are at an increased risk of experiencing hearing loss with aminoglycoside antibiotics. Find out more in our factsheet about MT-RNR1 testing for increased risk of aminoglycoside hearing loss.
    • Steroids reduce inflammation in the airways - see our factsheet
    • Mucolytics such as DNase break down mucus, making it easier to clear from the lungs
    • Physiotherapy, which can be performed daily to help to clear the lungs of thick, sticky mucus. There are many different techniques and physio equipment, for more information see our physiotherapy leaflets.
  • Digestive system

    Cystic fibrosis affects the pancreas, meaning that many people with the condition require enzyme capsules with meals and snacks. The capsules replace pancreatic enzymes in helping to break down food more effectively.

    Your dietitian or doctor can advise you on the appropriate type/dosage of enzyme supplement.

    Nutritional supplements such as high energy drinks can also help to compensate for ineffective digestion. Read our nutrition pages for more information.

    If you suffer from cystic fibrosis-related diabetes you will need to balance your food intake with suitable diabetic treatment like tablets or insulin. Your dietitian will be able to advise you about this. Read our factsheet.

  • Bones

    A lack of minerals caused by a damaged pancreas can result in osteoporosis (weak or brittle bones). Bisphosphonates, which are used to treat osteoporosis in post-menopausal women, have been shown to help treat osteoporosis in cystic fibrosis. Researchers are examining the benefits of high doses of vitamin D and calcium. Take a look at our bone health factsheet.

  • Ear, nose and throat (ENT)

    People with CF often experience ENT disorders, particularly ones that affect the respiratory system.

    • Nasal steroid sprays like Flixonase® help treat (though not cure) rhinitis, a swelling of the nasal lining that is common in people with cystic fibrosis.
    • Washing through the nose with salty water (nasal douching) and the use of antibiotics may also be used: your CF team will advise you.
    • Nasal douching can control infected nasal discharge as well.
    • Keyhole surgery might be used to treat chronic rhinosinusitis (when thick mucus fills the sinuses and colonises the nose with harmful bacteria), or related complications like nasal polyps.

PPC grants

Cystic Fibrosis Trust can provide a one-off Prescription Prepayment Certificate (PPC) grant for people living with cystic fibrosis.

Research we fund

We are funding research into new treatments and a better understanding of topics that affect the lives of people with CF, so that everyone with CF can one day live a life unlimited by the condition.

CF symptoms and complications

Cystic fibrosis (CF) affects many different parts of the body and people with the condition can experience a wide range of complications and symptoms.

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