Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a genetic disorder where the body produces thick mucus that can cause issues with breathing and digestion. CF does not directly affect a student’s ability to learn but can result in distractions during class and increased absences.

Respiratory issues and schooling

Respiratory issues caused by the buildup of mucus may require special accommodations for students with CF.  Simple things such as a box of tissues, a nearby trashcan, and a water bottle or access to a water fountain may help students who frequently cough feel more comfortable in the classroom.

Since germs can get trapped in the mucus in the lungs, students with CF are more susceptible to respiratory infections and should be separated from classmates who might be ill. All students in the class should also be encouraged to wash their hands frequently or use hand sanitizer to help prevent the spread of germs. Students with CF should also avoid sharing items such as lip balm, drinks, eating utensils, etc. If there is more than one student with CF in the classroom, it is recommended they are not within 6 feet of each other to prevent the spread of CF-specific illnesses.

Even though the breathing difficulties caused by CF can lead to difficulty exercising, it can still be helpful for students to participate in physical activities and they should not skip physical education class or recess. Exercise can help loosen and clear mucus in the lungs and strengthen the muscles involved in breathing. Students with CF who exercise should be encouraged to drink more water as they can sometimes become dehydrated.

Digestive issues and schooling

Students with CF may have increased difficulty with digestion due to excessive mucus production in the digestive tract. Breaking down and absorbing nutrients is much harder for patients with CF. The mucus can block pancreatic enzymes from reaching the intestines, resulting in the need for students to take vitamins and enzyme replacement pills with snacks and meals. Students may also need to snack periodically during class and have more time to eat lunch to ensure they are getting enough nutrients and calories.

Since food is not always fully digested, it can lead to abdominal pain, foul-smelling gas, and diarrhea. Students with CF should be allowed to go to the bathroom as needed and potentially have access to a private restroom.

Bullying at school

Many of the signs and symptoms of CF (frequent gas, small stature, etc.) can lead to bullying at school. It is important for parents and teachers to be alert for signs of bullying. Students with CF should also be encouraged to reach out for help if bullying is encountered.

Individual education plans

Students with CF may benefit from having an individual education plan (IEP) or a 504 plan depending on the severity of their symptoms. These plans will determine what the student’s health needs are and what accommodations should be made to help them succeed in school. These plans will also help teachers and school staff better understand CF and the student’s needs.

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Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.