Asthma and Social Security Disability


Anyone who has been diagnosed with or treated for asthma in their lifetime will tell you that asthma attacks are an awful experience. Some compare it to drowning on dry land, while others describe it more as having your lungs set on fire with your throat constricting to try and suffocate the flames. Asthma is a chronic lung disease that causes inflammation of the lungs and causes a person’s airway to narrow or constrict. When a person without asthma takes deep breaths, their airways relax, but a person with asthma who takes deep breaths can suddenly feel their airway constricting or even spasming. These reactions leave them breathless, gasping and wheezing for air. Worse still, asthma attacks can also be brought on by any airborne contamination, from tree pollen to air pollution.

Asthma Disability Benefits

Most people who have an asthma diagnosis are able to adequately manage their condition with regular medication and an emergency inhaler, but there are cases of asthma so severe that it actually inhibits a person’s ability to spend time outdoors, travel, or even remain gainfully employed. Should a person’s asthma prove severe enough that they are no longer able to work, the Social Security Administration does offer Social Security Disability Insurance compensation for those in need. There are, however, specific criteria that must be met. Here is a brief explanation of what the SSA defines as asthma that qualifies for SSDI compensation.

Physical Evaluations and Treatment

In order to determine that asthma is the root cause of a person’s debilitating condition (as opposed to other respiratory issues), physicians will administer a full physical exam, often including a lung function test referred to as spirometry.

A basic spirometry is intended to measure the maximum amount of air a person can inhale and exhale, as well as the volume or amount of air you can exhale in one second. The test consists of two separate stages: the first is administered by itself, and the second after the patient has been given asthma medication. If a patient’s spirometry numbers improve after being given asthma medication, then the patient is officially given an asthma diagnosis.

On occasion, lung strength does not improve with asthma medication, which may require your physician to administer additional tests such as an exhaled nitric oxide test (high nitric oxide levels indicate an inflamed airway), or a challenge test (the physician attempts to induce symptoms of asthma or an asthma attack and then see if spirometry scores change).

Typical treatment options are regular medication via an inhaler or tablets. The function of these medications is to relax the airway to prevent spasming and constriction, and to reduce and then control inflammation. Inhaled medications are the preferred therapy for acute attacks, as patients do not absorb the medication into their system and it treats the inflamed problem areas directly.

Qualifying for SSDI with Asthma

The SSA has two criteria for eligibility regarding asthma: 1.) you have a clinical diagnosis of asthma from a physician and 2.) your asthma’s severity is such that you are unable to engage in gainful activity/employment. A complete medical history of ongoing asthma treatment must be provided in the form of medical and clinical records, and these records must describe both your prescribed treatment and responsiveness to treatment over time.The SSA will also require that your records document your doctor’s diagnosis of the severity of your condition as well as any information about your ability to function with treatment.

In order for asthma attacks to qualify a claimant for SSDI, they must be both prolonged (lasting no less than a day) and severe enough to require intensive interventions such as an intravenous bronchodilator, administered doses of antibiotics, or prolonged inhalation bronchodilator therapy sessions in a hospital or emergency room setting. Moreover, attacks must persist in spite of prescribed treatment, occur no less than every two months or six times per year, and require treatment by a physician.

Should you be hospitalized for more than a 24-hour period with an asthma attack, that attack is considered two separate incidents by the SSA when evaluating the frequency of your attack history. Furthermore, only attacks occurring after you have started treatment for your asthma are considered in your history, and only after you have treatment records on file for no less than a year.

When applying for SSDI due to severe asthma, make sure that you assemble complete medical records and physician’s treatment histories as a part of your initial application, and document all records of any hospital stays or emergency room visits resulting from your condition. Also, remember that you must be able to show 12 months of treatment records and no less than six acute attacks per year in order to be considered for benefit compensation due to severe asthma. Consulting with a disability attorney or advocate is highly recommended due to the extensive documentation requirements for an asthma SSDI application.