Pulmonary disorders affect the respiratory tract and lungs. Asthma is one of the most common types of disabilities within the pulmonary classification. It occurs when airways are persistently inflamed and can spasm when triggered by pollution, infections, or allergies, causing shortness of breath and wheezing. More than 34 million Americans suffer from asthma and some asthma cases are severe enough to qualify as Social Security disability diseases.
Asthma is a chronic condition characterized by periods of restricted airflow and symptom-free periods. During an asthma attack, muscles surrounding airways of the lungs swell and become narrower, reducing the amount of air that may pass. Sufferers feel their chest tightening and may cough, wheeze, or gasp for air as a result. An asthma attack may last for only a few minutes or as long as several days. If airflow is substantially restricted, the situation may become dangerous.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) includes asthma in its list of respiratory system impairments. With an episodic respiratory impairment like asthma, the intensity and frequency of episodes occurring despite prescribed treatment usually serve as the major criteria for determining impairment level. For an individual to be classified as disabled, asthma attacks must occur at least six times per year or once every two months and require intervention from a physician.
Each asthma attack must last for at least one day and require administration of antibiotics, an intravenous bronchodilator, prolonged therapy using an inhalational bronchodilator, or other intensive treatment. Medical documentation must be provided to substantiate this and should include results of spirometric tests taken between asthma attacks to document a baseline airflow obstruction. People suffering from chronic asthmatic bronchitis are assessed using chronic obstructive pulmonary disease criteria.
If an asthma sufferer is unable to perform sedentary work, the SSA will determine that the individual is disabled. Sedentary work entails six hours of sitting, occasional walking and standing for two hours, and the ability to lift ten pounds at a time during an eight-hour day. Additional disability determinations are arrived at based on the age of the individual and the ability to perform varying levels of work.
Treating these types of disabilities requires controlling swelling of airways and limiting exposure to substances that trigger symptoms. Control drugs are administered to prevent asthma attacks and rescue drugs are prescribed for use during attacks. People suffering from moderate to severe asthma may be prescribed long-term control drugs that must be taken every day.