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.


Physiotherapy, exercise and medication play a huge role in managing the challenging symptoms of CF. We fund research into life-changing treatments for CF and our Activity Unlimited programme aims to empower everyone to get out there and get active.

We may be able to help you with the high costs of medication for CF with a grant towards a pre-payment certificate for the first year of prescription charges.

A brief guide to some of the most commonly used medication for people with cystic fibrosis, for:


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

  • 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.
  • Steroids reduce inflammation in the airways - see our factsheet.
  • Mucolytics such as DNase break down mucus, making it easier to clear from the lungs.
  • CFTR modulators, such as Orkambi, Symkevi and Kalydeco. Find out about our fight to gain access for these treatments on the NHS.
  • 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.

Other affected areas


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.

For more information, see our pages on how cystic fibrosis affects the lungs and digestive system, and find out more about other complications.

UK CF Registry

The Registry is an anonymised database of people with CF in the UK - a powerful tool for monitoring and auditing the care that people receive.

Here to help

Find out how to contact our wonderful helpline staff by telephone and email. They’re here Monday to Friday to answer your questions, help you access support or just to have a chat.

In the news

Check out the latest news about cystic fibrosis, from new developments in research to nationwide campaigns, including local, national and international stories.

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