DuPont Challenge Science Essay Competition
Salt: Enhancing Lives One Breath at a Time
by Jayme Warner
InTech Collegiate High School
North Logan, Utah
Sponsoring Teacher: Stephanie Kawamura
First place, senior division, 2011
I lay in bed listening to my 7-year-old sister Katie cough and struggle to breathe; I knew
another long night lay ahead for her and for my mother. My sister gasped for air and attempted
to get another breath and soon my mother appeared, pounded on my sisters back, and held her
while she coughed and gagged. My sister cried and eventually fell asleep while my mother
watched over her. The nightly ritual had just begun. I knew that in the morning, my sister
would awake tired and lethargic, and my mother would pound on her back while my sister
coughed and gagged. Before breakfast, my little sister would be expected to take a number of
pills so that her food would remain in her stomach. My sister would then go to school, trying
to face the challenges of a seven-year-old, while struggling to breathe and function.
My little sister, like thousands of other people across the country, lives with Cystic
Fibrosis (CF). Cystic Fibrosis is described as a defective gene and its protein product [which]
cause the body to produce unusually thick, sticky mucus that clogs the lungsobstructs the
pancreas and stops natural enzymes from helping the body break down and absorb food. (CFF,
Those affected with Cystic Fibrosis have lives filled with mucus thinners, antibiotics,
nebulizers, inhalers and breathing treatments; the daily treatments are both time-consuming
and expensive. What if a treatment could be found that is both inexpensive and lessens the
time needed for the other necessary daily therapies? I believe that this type of treatment could
greatly enhance the daily life of one afflicted by Cystic Fibrosis as well as the entire family! Fortunately, a new treatment is surfacing, one that is giving hope to those affected with Cystic
Fibrosis: Hypertonic Saline Therapy. What is Hypertonic Saline Therapy and how does it help
those affected by Cystic Fibrosis?
Scientifically, the airway surface liquid is kept at the height of the cilia that lines the
bronchial airways leading to the lungs. The cilia are responsible to keep the lungs free of
debris and infection. Those with Cystic Fibrosis suffer from a dysfunction of the cystic fibrosis
transmembrane conductance regulator protein which results in failure of chloride movement
across the airways and excess movement of sodium into the cells. Water passively follows the
movement of sodium, reducing the volume of the ASL. This is one reason for the excess
viscosity (stickiness) of the airway mucus and the failure of the lungs self-cleansing
mechanism, the mucociliary clearance, to work effectively. The retained, viscous mucus is a
focus for infection. (Elkins & Bye, 2006)
In essence, those with Cystic Fibrosis struggle to breathe, suffer with lung infections and
coughing spasms and have difficulty eating. In the past, children born with Cystic Fibrosis
rarely aged enough to make it to kindergarten; today, however, with significant research and
amazing advances in medicine, those affected with Cystic Fibrosis can now live for several
Although Hypertonic Saline Therapy is an additional form of treatment for a CF patient, it
is one that appears promising to assist CF patients improve the quality of their daily lives.
After researchers in Australia noted that surfers with Cystic Fibrosis suffered less lung
infections and less breathing problems compared to CF patients who didnt surf, the effects of
salty air were studied. The researchers found that treatment with hypertonic saline at 7%
inhaled twice per day reduces episodes of chest infection and is linked to improved lung
function, improved quality of life, and better attendance at school or work. (Wark, 2009)
Hypertonic saline is a salt and water solution that contains more salt than what is found in
our bodies. For instance, a normal saline solution is 0.9% salt whereas the hypertonic saline
used for Cystic Fibrosis patients is 7.0% salt. How does this promising treatment work?
Osmosis is described as the diffusion of water through a semipermeable membrane from an
area of higher concentration of water to an area of lower concentration of water and hypertonic
is defined as the greater solute concentration when comparing two solutions. (Campbell, 2005)
In the process of osmosis, salt leads the way in the saline solution and draws fluid back into
the airway, thus accelerating mucus clearance. (Robinson et al, 1997) Cystic Fibrosis patients
can breathe a hypertonic saline solution of 7% salt through a nebulizer and the inhaled salty air
goes into the airway, draws water from cells and into the airway, thinning the thick mucus in
the process and thus, making it easier to cough up the mucus. In essence, hypertonic saline
allows easier breathing for those affected by Cystic Fibrosis.
Over the past few years, several studies regarding Cystic Fibrosis and Hypertonic Saline
Therapy have been conducted; all have had the same results: Hypertonic Saline Therapy is an
inexpensive yet effective treatment for patients. Through the use of Hypertonic Saline
Therapy, patients had an increase in mucus clearance along with improved lung protection;
this led to overall protection of the lungs and increased health and quality of life.
Today, research continues on implementing Hypertonic Saline Therapy in the daily
treatment of Cystic Fibrosis patients; children as young as five years old are starting to feel
better because of this treatment. This solution is helping CF patients across the world have a
higher quality of life and breathe a little easier. Tonight when I go to bed, I won't hear my
sister gagging and coughing and I wont hear her crying and struggling to sleep. Tomorrow
when she wakes, Katie will be energetic and happy instead of tired and cranky. Because of
Hypertonic Saline Therapy, mixed with her other treatments, my little sister can now enjoy
school, she can swing and run at recess, concentrate on homework and sing in our local
community choir. Like thousands of CF patients undergoing Hypertonic Saline Therapy, Katie
can finally enjoy life like any other 7-year-old child.
- About Cystic Fibrosis. Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. n.d. Retrieved from: www.cff.org/AboutCF
- Campbell, N.A. and Reece, J.B. Biology . 7th edition ed. San Francisco: Pearson, 2005.
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- Warner, Katelyn Michelle. Personal Interview. December 15, 2010.
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