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Asthma and Social Security Disability

Asthma - Condition and Symptoms

Asthma is a chronic, inflammatory lung disease that impairs a person’s ability to breathe by causing the airways to narrow or constrict. When a healthy person takes deep breaths, the airways relax. An asthmatic who takes a deep breath often finds that his or her airways constrict or even go into spasm. When the airways tighten, the Asthma sufferer is breathless, wheezes, and sometimes gasps for air.

Asthmatic episodes are classified as either chronic or acute. Chronic Asthma is often associated with conditions such as allergies, chronic asthmatic bronchitis, emphysema, or COPD. Length and severity of the attacks also varies, with some people reporting Asthma attacks that last up to several days.

There are two primary stages of Asthma: the hyper-reactive response and the inflammatory response. In the hyper-reactive response, the muscles in a person’s airways tighten in response to an outside irritant. The inflammatory response is triggered by the immune system, which causes the airways to swell, fill with fluid, and produce a sticky mucous. Continuous inflammation makes asthmatics very sensitive to ordinary factors in the environment, such as cold air, dust, pollution, ordinary exercise, or even psychological stressors.

Because asthma-like symptoms can be caused by a number of other conditions, a positive diagnosis of Asthma requires a physician to not only take note of a patient’s reported symptoms, but also to complete a thorough review of medical history and conduct a full physical exam, which may include a lung function test called spirometry.

Spirometry measures the maximum amount of air your can inhale and exhale, as well as the amount of air your can exhale in only one second. After taking this test, the physician will give you an Asthma medication. If your scores improve significantly, you may be diagnosed with Asthma. Even if your lung strength doesn’t improve with medication, your physician may administer other tests if he or she has reason to believe that you may have Asthma. These tests may include an exhaled nitric oxide test (high levels of nitric oxide can mean inflamed airways) or a challenge test, in which the physician tries to induce asthmatic symptoms and, if successful, retests with spirometry to see if your scores fall. Typical symptoms of Asthma include recurrent wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, trouble breathing, and coughing, and are usually worse at night.

Treatment is either by inhaler or oral medication. Most Asthma medications work by relaxing airway spasms or reducing and then controlling inflammation. Inhaled medications (usually steroids) act directly on the airway surface and aren’t absorbed into the asthmatic’s system. Inhaled medications are therefore often preferred over oral medications.

Filing for Social Security Disability with an Asthma Diagnosis

Asthma is found under Section 3.03 of the Social Security Administration (SSA) Blue Book. Section 3.00 covers ailments of the respiratory system. As with all conditions, the SSA bases its assessment of the severity of your condition on your ability to perform daily tasks, the limitations imposed on you by your symptoms (including pain), and the extent to which any ongoing treatment affects you.

When you apply for disability benefits, you must show that you have been clinically diagnosed with Asthma and that your Asthma is severe enough to prevent you from engaging in gainful activity. You must provide ongoing medical and clinical records, which include a description of treatment and your response to that treatment over time. These records must document the severity of your condition and should provide information as to how you function with treatment. Asthma that is associated with chronic asthmatic bronchitis is evaluated using the criteria for obstructive pulmonary disease and chronic pulmonary insufficiency (Section 3.02A of the Blue Book).

Asthma attacks can only qualify claimants for disability benefits if they are prolonged (lasting at least a day at a time) and if they are severe enough to require “intensive” treatment, which is defined by the SSA as “intravenous bronchodilator, antibiotic administration, or prolonged inhalational bronchodilator therapy in a hospital, emergency room or equivalent setting.” In addition, attacks must occur in spite of prescribed treatment, must occur at least once every two months or at least six times a year, and must require the attention of a physician. In-patient hospitalization lasting longer than 24 hours is considered two separate attacks by the SSA. When evaluating the frequency with which you have Asthma attacks, SSA requires treatment records for at least 12 consecutive months.

Your Asthma Disability Case

If you are disabled because of Asthma that is severe enough to prevent you from working, you can apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income(SSI) benefits. Working closely with medical professionals and a qualified Social Security Disability attorney or advocate to collect and present the appropriate documentation to support your disability claim in front of the Disability Determination Services (DDS) can help to ensure that your Asthma disability claim will have the best possible chance of success.