A woman holding an oxygen mask up to a child.
Many cystic fibrosis symptoms are related to the respiratory systems, but there are others to be aware of too.

Cystic Fibrosis Symptoms

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease that is typically diagnosed in the first few years of life. Not only do cystic fibrosis symptoms impact the lungs, but also the digestive system and many other major organs. The disease impacts the cells that create secretions of the body, such as mucus, sweat and digestive juices. In a healthy person, the secretions are thin and slippery, but for those with cystic fibrosis, the secretions are thick and sticky. As a result, the body is not able to manage the secretions appropriately, and it creates a host of issues for virtually the whole body.

It’s important to understand cystic fibrosis and what the signs and symptoms look like. The more that you know and understand about disease, the more likely you will be able to identify cystic fibrosis symptoms and receive proper care. Here, we will examine some of the most common symptoms and what it means for your overall health.

Quality of Life

As with any lifelong illness, people often wonder about the quality of life. The good news is that many people living with cystic fibrosis are able to attend school, hold down a job and participate in other regular activities. Research indicates that individuals are now living into their mid-30s, and some are even living into their 40s and 50s. This is a significant improvement in comparison to survival rates from just a few years ago.

Of course, it is important for people who have a lifelong disease to seek support for any stress or anxiety the condition may cause. Please note that some people living with cystic fibrosis receive therapy services to help cope with some of the emotional strain that this disease can cause.

Early Diagnosis

As with any disease, early diagnosis is incredibly important. Fortunately, all newborns born in the U.S. are screened for cystic fibrosis. The condition is common enough that it is important to rule it out even before symptoms begin. One of the most complex aspects of the disease is that it may show symptoms immediately, later in life, or never at all. It can also be true that symptoms may worsen or get better over time.

One of the earliest and most subtle symptoms of cystic fibrosis is that a person’s skin may taste like salt. Some parents indicate that when they kiss their children, they can actually taste the salt on their skin. This is because individuals with cystic fibrosis have a higher level of salt content in their sweat.

While there may be some outlier symptoms associated with cystic fibrosis, the bulk of the symptoms can be classified as either respiratory or digestive since these are the primary areas in the body that are impacted.

Respiratory-Related Symptoms

One of the most commonly impacted areas of the human body is the respiratory system. This is due to the fact that the thick mucus commonly obstructs the airway. Unfortunately, the respiratory system can take quite a hit. Cystic fibrosis symptoms seen in the respiratory system include:

  • Persistently coughing up mucus.
  • Inability to exercise.
  • Breathlessness.
  • Wheezing.
  • Stuffy nose.
  • Inflammation of the nasal passage.
  • Chronic lung infections.
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Digestive-Related Symptoms

The digestive system is also impacted by cystic fibrosis, which can lead to a variety of symptoms. Thick mucus can block tubes that are responsible for carrying digestive enzymes between the pancreas and the small intestine. This can lead to a plethora of digestive-related issues such as:

  • Bad-smelling stool with a greasy texture
  • Inability to gain weight
  • Intestinal blockages
  • Constipation
  • Stomach pain
  • Rectal prolapse

Specifically, when it comes to children, you may notice that a child has an impressive appetite, but never seems to gain weight. Over time, a person with cystic fibrosis may even develop other conditions such as diabetes, liver disease, or pancreatitis.

Early Testing and Treatment

The most critical thing about cystic fibrosis is making sure that it is detected as soon as possible. This will ensure that proper treatment is put in place early on in the diagnosis. Starting an effective treatment plan could make all the difference as far as quality of life is concerned.

While newborns are now tested for the disease, it is still important to discuss any new symptoms with your medical provider.

Pregnant or Planning to Become Pregnant

Because cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder, you should be diligent about discussing early testing with your doctor. This is especially true if there is a family history of the disease.

If you notice that your child has excessive sinus infections, has salty-tasting skin, or has a chronic cough, be sure to bring your concerns to your doctor right away.


Cystic fibrosis is a chronic disease that can have lasting impacts on the body. However, with a proper diagnosis, your doctor can put a treatment plan in place in improve the quality of your life.

Of course, the first step is making sure that you understand the symptoms associated with cystic fibrosis. Once a diagnosis is given by a doctor, you can begin discussing treatment options.