Disability for Lung Disease and Breathing Problems: Do You Qualify?

August 28, 2020 | By Riddle & Brantley Accident Injury Lawyers
Disability for Lung Disease and Breathing Problems: Do You Qualify?

Wondering if you can get Social Security disability for lung disease? We are frequently contacted by North Carolinians wondering if breathing problems like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”), asthma, or cystic fibrosis can qualify them to receive Social Security Disability benefits. In this post, we’ll discuss whether or not a person can get disability for lung disease or breathing problems, and what’s involved. To be clear: The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) DOES allow for disability benefits to be paid to persons with breathing and lung problems IF the problems are severe enough. Some breathing disorders / lung diseases automatically qualify a person for benefits if they are severe enough to meet one of the SSA’s “Listings” of severe impairments. Others could qualify you for benefits even if they do not meet the stringent requirements for a Listing if they cause you to be so limited in the things you can do that you could not be expected to work at a 40-hour per week job, no matter how easy. In other blog posts, we've talked about these two alternative ways a person can meet the SSA’s requirements to show they are disabled by:

  • (1) meeting a “Listing,” or
  • (2) showing a significantly impaired Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”)
Whatever your particular type of lung disease or breathing problem, if you’re trying to get disability for lung disease, it is absolutely imperative that you have been seeing a doctor (preferably a pulmonologist) and been tested, medicated, and treated for a significant period of time, at least six months and preferably longer. Disability for Lung Disease - Riddle & BrantleyBreathing problems are normally diagnosed by using one or more of several common tests, including spirometry tests to determine your “FEV1” level, oxygen saturation tests, and others. Test results within a certain range are crucial to any breathing problem or lung disease disability claim. One of the basic rules appliable to any disability claim — including disability claims for lung disease or breathing problems — is that the medical problem has already lasted (or is expected to last) at least a year or cause the person’s death. This is called the “durational requirement.” You must be able to produce a set of test results (see above) over a long period of time, and prescriptions to treat the condition, to back up your claim and prove how long-lasting and severe it is. Otherwise, it is unlikely that you can win your disability case based on lung disease or breathing problems alone.

Common Lung Diseases and Breathing Problems for Disability Claims:


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”) is the generic term that covers a number of breathing disorders including emphysema and bronchitis. The practical effects of these conditions are to limit a person’s ability to get around and move without becoming so short of breath they have to stop and basically do nothing. These conditions also reduce the flow of oxygen to other organs, resulting in a reduced ability to do things you must do to work. If you have COPD that is severe enough, you could meet a Listing, or you could have an RFC so limited that you cannot work. Either would entitle you to lung disease disability benefits, assuming you are otherwise eligible.


Asthma is a chronic disease of the respiratory system involving inflammation of the airways and lungs. The inflammation can have one or many causes including animal dander, chemicals, cigarette smoke, and others. Most asthma sufferers find a combination of medications and breathing therapies that allow them to live relatively normal lives and perform full-time work. Some, however, have more severe or difficult cases that do not respond to treatment, and that keep them from being able to get around well enough to work. In this case, an individual may qualify for disability. Disability for Lung Diseases and Breathing Problems - Riddle & Brantley NC Disability LawyersIf you have been diagnosed with asthma by a pulmonologist and your condition is severe enough, you could meet the Agency’s Listing for asthma. The Listing includes among its requirements multiple hospitalizations from severe episodes and certain specific lung capacity test results. These are difficult requirements to meet. If your particular case does not meet them, you may still be able to demonstrate that your RFC is so limited that no jobs could accommodate all of your limitations. Either of those would result in an award of benefits, ESPECIALLY if you are over 50.

Cystic Fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis is a hereditary disease that results in the accumulation of mucous in the lungs and pancreas, which can then lead to lung infections, the inability to breath, and the inability to properly process nutrition (resulting in weight loss). The Listing for cystic fibrosis, like all listings, is very specific and strict, and includes things like hospitalizations for the condition, breathing test results, and other proof of respiratory failure. Not all cystic fibrosis cases are severe enough to meet that listing. However, many that are not are still bad enough to limit a person so severely that they cannot work anything close to 40 hours/week. Here again, you can take either route (meeting the Listing or proving a severely-limiting RFC) to be approved for benefits.

Other Considerations

Most people with lung or breathing problems like those described above also have other medical conditions like high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, and mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. Each disability claim has to be evaluated based on the effect of all the person’s impairments and conditions on his or her ability to work. If those effects are sufficiently serious, the person will be approved for disability benefits.

“Can I get disability for lung disease or breathing problems?”

So… can you get disease for lung disease or other breathing problems? The short answer is that yes, you can qualify for disability for lung disease and breathing problems, but the criteria are strict. An experienced North Carolina disability lawyer can help improve the chances that you are approved for disability for lung disease or breathing problems. In fact, studies show that those represented by an attorney are approved on average 60 percent of the time, while those who represent themselves are only approved roughly 34 percent of the time. For a FREE consultation with an experienced disability lawyer handling claims in North Carolina, including Raleigh, Durham, Fayetteville, Charlotte, Goldsboro, Greenville, Jacksonville and Wilmington, please call 1-800-525-7111.
"You may qualify for disability for lung disease or another breathing problem and we would love to help you if we can."
Lung Disease Disability Benefits - Riddle & Brantley NC Disability LawyersThere is no obligation and you won’t pay any attorney fees unless we get you the disability benefits you need and deserve. Call 1-800-525-7111 today and let’s talk. You may qualify for disability for lung disease or breathing problems. We would love to help you get the justice and benefits you deserve. Please call 1-800-525-7111 today for a FREE, no-obligation consultation with a Board-Certified Specialist in Social Security Disability.
“I would recommend Riddle & Brantley to anyone who needs help with disability.”
-B. Fields, Riddle & Brantley client Those with COPD, asthma, cystic fibrosis and other lung diseases and breathing problems may qualify for disability benefits and we would love to consult with you about your case. Justice Counts.