Tips for Working with Cystic Fibrosis

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: September 2019

Every day, thousands of people with cystic fibrosis (CF) prove that they can hold down a job, even while tending to a chronic condition. Still, it can be challenging to balance health needs with the responsibilities and required activities of a career.

How many people with cystic fibrosis are working?

In 2017, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation surveyed its patient registry and found that:

  • 38.6% worked full-time
  • 12.4% worked part-time
  • 3.2% were homemakers
  • 2.5% were retired
  • 8% were unemployed
  • 17.3% were disabled1

Benefits of having a job

The camaraderie, intellectual stimulation, insurance, and money(!) that comes with work can give people with CF an emotional and financial boost. It can also be physically hard, depending on how severe your symptoms are at any given time. Learning how to balance your work life with your health needs may be challenging at times, but there are things you can do to make it possible to work.

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Tips for working with cystic fibrosis

The symptoms of CF vary so widely from person to person it can be hard to make blanket statements about what is helpful for those who work. However, there are some broad suggestions that may help:

  • Create a schedule and stick to it. Maintaining set times for treatments and exercise will help you prioritize your health so that you can work.
  • Don’t overwork yourself. Getting overly tired makes you more vulnerable to infections.
  • Try to schedule doctor’s appointments for the early morning, lunchtime, or end of the day.
  • Be deliberate about whether you tell your superiors or coworkers that you have CF. You should not feel obligated to explain appointments, coughing spells, or being out sick. However, it may be helpful for your coworkers to know that your coughing isn’t contagious or why you need to miss a few days.
  • If you have a job that allows for it, ask to work from home during cold and flu season.

The Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides protection against discrimination towards people with disabilities. Job protection under the ADA is only applicable if the individual is disabled and informs their employer of their disability. Cystic fibrosis is considered a disability under the umbrella of “respiratory impairments.”

The law requires that employers make “reasonable accommodations” for employees, as long as they do not impose an “undue hardship” on the employer’s business. Reasonable accommodations include modifications or adjustments to the job or the work environment that enable a person with disabilities to perform essential job functions.

Common workplace modifications

The Job Accommodation Network provides a list of accommodations that may apply to the workplace of a person with CF. What is considered a reasonable accommodation can vary from business to business, depending on the industry and the individual needs of the person. Examples of accommodations include:

  • Declaring the office a fragrance-free workplace
  • Allowing a full-time employee to adjust their hours or work part-time
  • Maintaining its HVAC systems to ensure clean air
  • Providing additional rest breaks
  • Notifying the employee ahead of time of construction, cleaning, or pest control treatments so triggering substances can be avoided.2