Asthma is a breathing condition where your airways narrow and produce mucus which makes it difficult to breathe. Individual cases of asthma can range in severity from very minor to life threatening. Some people with asthma only have symptoms during asthma attacks. Others have symptoms all the time. Symptoms include shortness of breath, coughing spells, wheezing, and chest pain. There is no cure for asthma, but symptoms can be controlled with medication.
Asthma Can Affect Daily Life, Making It Impossible to Work
For many with asthma, the condition can be triggered by a variety of activities, such as exertional activities like walking. Simply walking a few blocks can cause a person with severe asthma to be very short of breath. Other triggers could be pulmonary irritants like dust or perfumes, and allergens such as pollen. Walking by a person in a stores (or a person in the workplace) with heavy perfume or cologne can cause a person with severe asthma to have an exacerbation with coughing and shortness of breath. Triggers like these can result in asthma attacks – an exacerbation of asthma symptoms that can be potentially life-threatening. Severe asthma attacks can cause significant shortness of breath and sometimes require emergency room intervention.
Those with asthma will often use inhalers both on a regular basis as a preventive measure and also as treatment for acute exacerbations (rescue inhalers). For individuals suffering severe asthma attack requiring hospitalization, steroids may be prescribed. These medications are often prescribed by a family doctor. In severe cases, those suffering from asthma may be treated by a pulmonologist, a specialist in breathing disorders.
Can Asthma Qualify You For Social Security Disability?
Asthma can be the sole basis for disability benefits in the most severe cases. The Social Security Listing for asthma requires both objective testing and proof of the need for hospitalization.
First, a disability applicant must show evidence from a pulmonary function study indicating forced expiratory scores below a certain threshold (based on gender and height). The testing cannot occur during a period of exacerbation, but must be taken during a period of stability. In addition to those pulmonary function scores, the applicant must also show that they have been hospitalized three times in a 12-month period (with each hospitalization lasting at least 48 hours). If the scores are low enough and evidence of at least three 48-hour hospitalizations in 12 months can be shown in the evidence, then Social Security will find a person disabled pursuant to Listing 3.03. This is a very difficult standard to meet, and in fact many cases of severe asthma won’t meet the criteria.
You May Still Be Approved if You Don't Meet the Stringent Criteria for Disability Benefits
In my experience, even if your asthma condition doesn’t meet the criteria of the rather stringent 3.03 listing, there is still an opportunity to be approved disability for severe asthma. The key is exacerbations/hospitalizations. If exacerbations due to uncontrolled asthma occur frequently enough, most Social Security judges will approve a disability case on the basis of asthma. Most vocational experts will agree that if a person were to miss one or more days per month on a regular and ongoing basis, that such a person would be disabled and unable to obtain regular employment as a result.
Evidence on the frequency of exacerbation must be shown in the evidence presented to Social Security. This means treatment notes from your doctors, documentation of hospital or ER visits, and personal logs or journals detailing the frequency and severity of your asthma attacks. Additionally, if you are over the age of 50 years old, then severe asthma can be the basis for an approval based on the medical vocational guidelines if your ability to walk is significantly limited by shortness of breath. For physical conditions, including breathing conditions like asthma, reaching the new age category of age 50 can make it much easier to be approved. That said, individuals under 50 can still be approved for asthma, however the requirements are more difficult.
How Our Social Security Attorneys Can Help
Even if your asthma is not severe enough to be considering disabling by itself, it could still be an important part of your disability case. An important thing to keep in mind is that Social Security isn’t looking at any single condition in isolation, but rather as a whole. You may have multiple conditions that all affect you in different ways. If the combined effect of all your conditions prevents you from working a full time schedule, then you should be determined to be disabled due to the combination of your impairments.
Perhaps your asthma condition prevents you from standing and walking for very long or from being around extreme heat or from exposing yourself to concentrated dust, fumes, gases, or odors. These limits may not prevent all work, but these limits eliminate many fields of work in the economy. The remaining jobs may be eliminated by other conditions you also have. If your conditions, considered in combination, prevent you from performing all types of work that occurs in significant numbers in the national economy, then you should be found disabled.
Since 1936, Keller & Keller has been helping people just like you get the disability benefits they need. Our Social Security attorneys know how the SSA processes work, and can assist you from the initial application, to appeals, and even all the way to federal court. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation with our Social Security legal team. As always, there's no fee until we win your case!