Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a hereditary, chronic disorder of the mucous and sweat glands, causing an uncontrollable production and buildup of thick mucus that can serve as a medium for bacterial growth, and in the gastrointestinal tract can lead to obstruction and malabsorption. When CF affects the respiratory tract, patients have difficulty with lung clearance. Constant inflammation leads to lung scarring (fibrosis) and eventual lung failure and collapse. The disease has proven to be debilitating and difficult to live with for most people, however, findings from Australian physicians are suggesting an unusual way to better manage this disease — surfing.
Doctors in Australia noticed that surfers with CF had significantly better lung function compared to other CF patients. They associated this observation with regular saltwater inhalation, which acts like saline instillation and helps rehydrate the airways. This natural saline therapy loosens accumulated, stubborn mucus and facilitates clearance. Years ago, this prompted the formulation of a hypertonic saline solution, which today is an essential component of CF patients’ daily regimen.
The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation calls it the “saltwater” treatment, and is urging more scientists to explore its risks and benefits for patients with CF, as well as other conditions that retard lung clearance such as ciliary dyskinesia. They established a chapter called “Pipeline to a Cure,” which aims to raise funds and awareness on this breakthrough approach to managing CF.
In Laguna Beach, California, the Mauli Ola (Hawaiian for “breath of life”) Foundation has taken on this method of treating CF by offering surfing lessons. The founders, Rob and Paulette Montelone, are parents of three children with CF. They have watched their children cope better with the disease through surfing, and are working toward making the activity a possibility for others. Some of their volunteer instructors are international surfing champions Josh Baxter, Kelly Slater, and Sunny Garcia. At present, the foundation has helped nearly 1,300 CF patients breathe better through an extremely fun activity for everyone.