Is Asthma a Disability? Facts Social Security Considers

If you have had frequent asthma attacks that require hospitalization, you should be able to get disability benefits.

Updated November 8, 2016

Asthma is a disorder that causes the bronchial tubes to abnormally contract. These contractions cause swelling of the airways and make it difficult to breathe properly. Symptoms include coughing, tightness in the chest, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Asthma attacks can be triggered by airborne irritants, allergies, exercise, cold air, cold viruses, and even emotional upset. Sometimes asthma attacks occur for no clear reason.

Asthma can often be treated effectively with medication; however, in some rare cases, patients experience disabling asthma attacks despite treatment. In these instances, it can be impossible to maintain full-time work.

How to Qualify for Disability Due to Asthma

To decide if you are eligible for disability due to your asthma, first the Social Security Administration (SSA) will check to make sure you are not working and making more than $1,170 per month (the substantial gainful activity level in 2017), and that your inability to work due to your asthma will last at least 12 months. If you pass these initial screening tests, the SSA will then look to see whether your asthma meets its official disability listing for asthma.

Requirements for Asthma Disability

If you can prove you meet all the criteria established by the SSA in its Listing 3.03, which was updated significantly on October 7, 2016, your claim will be automatically approved.

To meet the requirements for asthma, you must be diagnosed with chronic asthma and fulfill the following requirements:

  • You must have had three exacerbations or complications requiring hospitalization in a one-year period. The hospitalizations must have lasted at least 48 hours each and must have occurred at least 30 days apart.
  • Your FEV1 value (your forced expiatory volume in one second, the result of a spirometry breathing test) must be as low as stated in Social Security's chart in its asthma listing, considering your age, gender and height.

If you have chronic asthmatic bronchitis, you must have the same qualifying FEV1 value as required for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). See more below.

What Kind Of Medical Evidence Do I Need?

You must undergo a spirometry test. A spirometry test will measure how much air you breathe in and out and at what rate you breathe. Specifically, the spirometry test must measure how much air you can force out in one second (known as FEV1).

To qualify for disability based on asthma rather than chronic asthmatic bronchitis, you will also need to provide the SSA with at least 12 consecutive months of medical records that show how often and for how long you were hospitalized because of your asthma, what treatment you received for your asthma, and whether you were following your doctor’s treatment for prevention of asthma attacks. It is important to provide the names and addresses of every hospital, clinic, and ER facility where you received breathing treatments, the names and dosages of all medications, and your records from your treating physician.

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