Cystic Fibrosis Home > Treatment for Cystic Fibrosis

The methods used for cystic fibrosis treatment have improved greatly in recent years. Common forms of treatment in use today include antibiotics, exercise, and chest physical therapy. The main goals of treatment are to prevent and control infections in the lungs, remove thick, sticky mucus from the lungs, and prevent blockages in the intestines.

An Overview of Cystic Fibrosis Treatment

Although there is still no cure for cystic fibrosis (CF), treatment has improved greatly in recent years.
The goal of cystic fibrosis treatment is to:
  • Prevent and control infections in your lungs
  • Loosen and remove the thick, sticky mucus from your lungs
  • Prevent blockages in your intestines
  • Provide adequate nutrition.

Treatment for Cystic Fibrosis Lung Problems

Common treatments for lung problems seen in cystic fibrosis may include:
  • Antibiotics for infections of the airways
  • Chest physical therapy
  • Exercise
  • Other methods.
Other treatments for lung problems may include:
  • Oxygen
  • Lung transplantation.



Most people with cystic fibrosis have ongoing, low-grade lung infections, which may require hospitalization. Antibiotics are the primary treatment for cystic fibrosis.
If you have cystic fibrosis, you may be given several different types of antibiotics. The type of antibiotic your doctor recommends will depend on:
  • The strains of bacteria involved
  • How serious your condition is
  • Your previous history of antibiotic use.
The different types of antibiotics used as cystic fibrosis treatments include:
  • Oral antibiotics for relatively mild airway infections
  • Inhaled antibiotics, such as tobramycin, which may be used alone or with oral antibiotics
  • Intravenous antibiotics for severe infections or when none of the oral antibiotics work
  • Antibiotics, such as azithromycin (Zithromax®), that also reduce inflammation.
Chest Physical Therapy
Chest physical therapy as treatment for cystic fibrosis is also called chest clapping or percussion. Chest physical therapy involves pounding your chest and back over and over again to dislodge the mucus from your lungs so that you can cough up the mucus. Chest physical therapy for cystic fibrosis should be done three to four times each day.
Chest physical therapy is also often referred to as postural drainage because it requires you to be sitting or lying on your stomach with your head down while you do chest physical therapy. This allows gravity to help drain the mucus from your lungs.
Chest physical therapy may be hard or uncomfortable for some people, which is why several helpful devices have been developed. The devices include:
  • An electric chest clapper, known as a mechanical percussor.
  • An inflatable therapy vest that uses high-frequency air waves to force the mucus out of your lungs.
  • A "flutter" device, which is a small hand-held device through which you breathe out. It causes vibrations that dislodge the mucus.
  • A positive expiratory pressure (PEP) mask that creates vibrations. This helps to break the mucus loose from the airway walls.
Several breathing techniques may also help dislodge the mucus. These techniques include:
  • Forced expiration technique (FET), which is forcing out a couple of breaths or huffs and then doing relaxed breathing.
  • Active cycle breathing (ACB), which is FET with deep breathing exercises that can loosen the mucus in your lungs and help open your airways.
Aerobic exercise may help to:
  • Loosen the mucus
  • Encourage coughing to clear the mucus
  • Improve your overall physical condition.
If you exercise regularly, you may be able to cut back on your chest physical therapy. However, you should check with your doctor before using exercise as a cystic fibrosis treatment.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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