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Cystic fibrosis can lead to many health complications in infants and children. Here is an overview of the causes, symptoms and treatment of cystic fibrosis.
What Is Cystic Fibrosis?
Cystic fibrosis is a disease of secretory glands that may affect the lungs, digestive system and other organs of your child. This is a lifelong condition that makes the child’s mucus, saliva, sweat and tears extremely sticky and thick, that it may clog the digestive system and lungs of the child. Cystic fibrosis is a life-threatening genetic disorder.
Cause of Cystic Fibrosis
Cystic fibrosis is an inherited disorder, which is caused due to mutation or change in the genes or the DNA. The child gets a pair of genes from both the parents and these genes are the storehouse of instructions, for the manner in which our body will grow and work. Sometimes, the instructions change in the genes, and these gene changes get transferred from the parent to the child. These gene changes can cause health conditions and congenital disabilities in children.
If the gene change is transferred from a single parent, the baby is only the carrier of cystic fibrosis and does not have the condition, though the carrier may pass on the gene to their children. However, if the gene change is transferred from both the parents, then the baby is likely to have cystic fibrosis. Cystic fibrosis runs in families, and thus the primary cause of this infection is a genetic disorder.
Signs & Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of cystic fibrosis may not be same for all the children; however, they are noticed at an early age. Following are some of the symptoms of cystic fibrosis that you may notice in your child:
- Lung infections, breathing problems, wheezing and prolonged bouts of coughing.
- Blockage in the small intestine that can cause hindrance in passing the first stool after birth.
- Baby’s skin and sweat are very salty (when you kiss your child).
- Poor weight gain and growth.
- Any growth in the nose or sinuses (polyps).
- swell in the rectum or rectal prolapse.
- Clubbing of toes or fingers
How Is Cystic Fibrosis Diagnosed In Children?
Test for cystic fibrosis can be carried out any age; however, most cases of CF are established soon after birth or within two years after birth. If cystic fibrosis is suspected, your doctor may prescribe genetic or sweat test. A sweat test is a rapid, painless and commonly used test to diagnose cystic fibrosis. The test involves triggering sweat glands by placing small disk (electrode) on the skin (usually arm). The sweat sample is collected to check the amount of chloride in it. High levels of chloride in sweat are indicative of cystic fibrosis.
Borderline level of chlorideHigh
|Age||Normal level of chloride||level of chloride|
|KHigh chloride 6 months||>30 mmol/L||Within 30-59 mmol/L||< 60mmol/L or higher|
|kids more than 6 months||>40 mmol/L||Within 40-59 mmol/L||< 60mmol/L or higher|
*mmol/L refers to the measure of concentration and the borderline level of chloride varies from case to case.
Apart from the sweat test, your doctor may recommend other tests such as chest x-ray, lung function tests, sinus x-ray and a sputum culture test.
Following are some of the complications that may result from cystic fibrosis:
- It may cause pneumonia, sinusitis, or bronchitis.
- It may damage the airways and cause bronchiectasis, which hinders the air flow in the lungs.
- It may damage the lung tissue causing respiratory failure.
- It may lead to thin airway walls, resulting in blood while coughing.
- It may cause inflammation and swelling in the lining of the nose, causing polyps.
- It may increase the risk of early diabetes.
- It may block the tubes that carry digestive enzymes, and thus lead to nutritional deficiency.
- It may block the tube that carries bile, causing gallstones and liver problems.
- It may also lead to osteoporosis.
Children affected with cystic fibrosis need ongoing care. The cure for CF varies from child to child and it majorly depends on the kind of problems that are caused by the genetic disorder, and how the child’s body is coping with it. The doctors recommend medication, nutritional and respiratory therapies along with other specialised care. Following treatments may be helpful to treat CF in children:
- Medicines: The doctor may prescribe antibiotics to fight the infection caused by bacteria. NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen may be given to help relieve the fever, pain, and swelling. Some mucus-thinning medicines, steroids, and bronchodilators may also be prescribed to the child.
- Digestive enzymes: Your doctor may prescribe digestive enzymes and vitamins to your child to help in digestion and absorption of nutrients.
- Insulin: Your doctor may prescribe insulin to regulate blood sugar levels, in case your child is diagnosed with diabetes.
- Proper nutrition and supplements: Your doctor may guide you about the various nutritional requirements for growth and development of your child. These supplements will help the child to cope up with the disease and various CF therapies.
- Flu vaccinations: Your doctor may recommend annual flu vaccination for your child, which will protect from any complications arising from CF.
Though cystic fibrosis is most effectively treated in hospitals under proper medical supervision, some home remedial measures will help in managing the disease in a better way. Some of the home remedies that may be effective are:
- You may use herbs such as cleaver, nettle and red clover and brew it into tea. These herbs may prove to be very effective in building immunity in your child.
- You may use herbs such fenugreek or mint to help improve your child’s digestive functions.
- You may use herbs such as lobelia, comfrey, and burdock root, as these are very effective in thinning the mucus. The mucus can thus be easily coughed, resulting in proper breathing.
- You may also use turmeric for its anti-inflammatory properties. It is very effective in healing lung inflammation. You may add turmeric to the food or add it to the milk.
- You may give papaya to your child. Papaya has antibacterial properties and helps to fight bacterial infections. You can also give green tea with some honey and cinnamon mixed with water to your child to fight bacterial infections.
- You may give liquorice to your child as it is beneficial in reducing pulmonary inflammation, and thus avoid lung infections.
Other things that you can do at home are, indulging your child in various activities and exercises to improve lung function. Keep your house dust and allergen free to prevent breathing problems. Make sure your child eats a healthy diet.
It is essential to seek medical assistance before giving any herb or home remedy to your child, as all herbs may not be suitable for all children.
Tips to Help Your Child Breathe More Easily
Cystic fibrosis in infants and young children may cause breathing problems. If your child has breathing difficulties, following tips will help your child breathe more easily:
- You may use a humidifier in your home to increase the moisture as dry air makes it difficult for the child to breathe and cough out mucus.
- Refrain from smoking around your child. Smoke can adversely affect the breathing of your child and worsen the bouts of coughing.
- You may use pillows to elevate your child’s head while sleeping. Elevated head makes it easier to breathe. However, it is not recommended to use a pillow for a baby.
- You may help your child to learn some exercises which may contribute to remove the mucus and breathe easily. Your doctor may help you know the correct technique of doing such exercises.
Cystic fibrosis is a life-threatening disease; however, life expectancy for babies diagnosed with cystic fibrosis has increased over the past few decades. Children who are diagnosed with cystic fibrosis may live up to 30, 40 or in some cases even 50 years.
Though cystic fibrosis cannot be cured completely, the various treatment options may help manage the symptoms of the disease. It is critical that you know about your child’s condition and various treatment options for the same. It is recommended to follow your doctor’s advice to avoid any complications strictly.