Health

Saltwater therapy improves lung function for cystic fibrosis patients

NEWS IN BRIEF — Posted Feb. 6, 2006

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Two teams of medical scientists have identified what they believe is a simple, effective and inexpensive treatment to reduce lung problems associated with cystic fibrosis. The new therapy also appears to be safe and easy to take.

By inhaling a saltwater aerosol solution almost twice as salty as the Atlantic Ocean for between 10 and 15 minutes at least twice a day, young patients should be able to avoid a significant part of the damage the disease causes to their lungs, the researchers said.

Reports on both studies, which were collaborative and complementary, appeared in the Jan. 19 New England Journal of Medicine.

Cystic fibrosis appears on average in one of four children of parents who both carry a defective copy of a gene known as CFTR. The children soon develop chronic lung damage, since their lungs cannot clear excessive sticky mucus by sweeping it into the mouth, where it is swallowed and eliminated.

The study appears to establish the concept that the surface of the lungs of CF patients are dehydrated, and restoring hydration with hypertonic saline treats the basic cause of this disease. The salt sucks water from the lung tissue out onto the airways.

One branch of the study conducted at the University of North Carolina involved 24 patients treated with the high-salt solution for two-week periods and the second study, conducted in Australia, studied 164 patients for almost a year.

Note: This item originally appeared at http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2006/02/06/hlbf0206.htm.

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