Updated November 17, 2016
Pneumonia and other lung infections are caused by bacteria, fungi, or viruses. The symptoms of pneumonia, tuberculosis, and other lung infections include chest-pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, fever and chills, weight loss, and night sweats.
Most lung infections can be treated effectively in a short period of time; therefore, it may be hard to meet Social Security's requirement that your disability last, or be expected to last, at least one year. If your lung infection has lasted less than 12 months when you apply, the Social Security Administration (SSA) must decide whether your infection is likely to last a year. To do this, the SSA will consider any tests you have undergone for your lung infection, any treatments you have received, how you have responded to treatment, whether you have had any complications, and the opinions of your treating doctors about your prognosis.
If your lung function has been compromised, you may be eligible for automatic approval under the SSA’s disability listing for chronic respiratory disorders. (Social Security removed its listing for chronic lung infections in October 2016.) One way to meet the listing for respiratory disorders requires that you undergo a "spirometry" test to determine how the infection has affected your lung function. The spirometry test required by Social Security measures how much air you breathe in and out and at what rate you breathe; specifically, how much air you can force out in one second (known as FEV1). For more information on how low your FEV1 value must be, as well as other ways to meet this listing, see Nolo's article on chronic respiratory disorders.
You can still win your claim for disability even if your lung infection, pneumonia, or tuberculosis doesn’t meet a listing. Social Security will prepare a residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment to see how your lung infection has impacted your ability to do work-related activities. For example, if your lung infection caused moderate damage to your lungs, but not to the extent required to meet the listing, you may need to avoid temperature extremes, dust or other air pollutants. These limitations will restrict what kind of jobs you can do. You may also require breaks throughout the day to use a nebulizer or other self-administered treatment. You should also ask your doctor to prepare a "medical source statement" that details your work restrictions and limitations. Once the SSA reviews your RFC, your doctor's statement, and your medical records, it will determine whether there is any work you can do. For more information see our article on RFCs.
In addition to the 1-year requirement discussed above you may not earn more than $1,170 a month (in 2017) from working. If you are applying for SSDI, you must also have a significant work history with employers that paid Social Security tax. For more information on eligibility requirements, see Nolo's section on SSDI. If you are applying for SSI, the SSA will consider your income and other assets to see if you qualify. For more information see Nolo's section on SSI.