January 18, 2006

Salt water mist better for cystic fibrosis: study

By Gene Emery

BOSTON (Reuters) - Mists of inhaled salt water can reduce
the pus and infection that fills the airways of cystic fibrosis
sufferers, although side effects include a nasty coughing fit
and a harsh taste.

That's the conclusion of two studies published in The New
England Journal of Medicine and released on Wednesday.

They found that inhaling a mist with a salt content of 7 or
9 percent improved lung function and, in some cases, produced
less absenteeism from school or work.

Cystic fibrosis, a progressive and frequently fatal genetic
disease that affects about 30,000 young adults and children in
the United States, is marked by a thickening of the mucus which
makes it harder to clear the lungs of debris and bacteria.

The salt water solution "really opens up a new avenue for
approaching patients with cystic fibrosis and how to treat
them," said Gail Weinmann of the National Heart Lung and Blood
Institute, which sponsored one of the studies.

In a Journal editorial, Felix Ratjen of the Hospital for
Sick Children in Toronto, cited several unpleasant side effects
of the salt mist treatment including a bad taste, coughing fits
and the lengthy 30 minutes it can take to administer.

He added that in one of the studies, patients may not have
received the best long-term antibiotic treatment. That would
make the inhaled salt water mist appear more effective than it
would have been if people were getting a better drug, he said.

That study, led by Mark Elkins of the Royal Prince Alfred
Hospital in Sydney, found that the 83 volunteers who regularly
inhaled a 7 percent mist of salty water had fewer breathing
problems and less absenteeism from school or work than those
who inhaled a solution with a salt content of under 1 percent.

"Adding salt (and water) to the airway surfaces of patients
with cystic fibrosis is beneficial" for both children and
adults, they concluded.

All of the patients first inhaled a chemical to try to open
their lung passages as much as possible.

In the second study, Scott Donaldson of the University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill and his colleagues found that a 7
percent salt mist "produced a sustained acceleration of mucus
clearance and improved lung function" because it helped hydrate
the lungs.

Weinmann said limitations inherent to the treatment mean a
salt water mist "may be just a first step" in treating cystic