Can I Apply for Social Security Disability with Sleep Apnea?

Published on: July 13, 2017

Can I Apply for Social Security Disability with Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a condition where a person experience pauses in breathing or shallow breaths during their sleep. It often arises due to one being unable to maintain a constant airflow through their nose and mouth, causing shortness of breath. A person may stop breathing for up to 30 seconds at a time, and this may happen regularly throughout the night. Shortness of breath can lead to you being unable to maintain deep sleep during the night, causing excessive daytime sleepiness.

This article will explore the complications that sleep apnea can cause, and whether you can qualify and apply for social security disability benefits with sleep apnea.

How Sleep Apnea can Affect you

Sleep apnea is primarily caused by the inability of a person to properly move their respiratory muscles, which causes a reduction of the airflow through the nose and mouth. The shortness of breath that occurs as a result of sleep apnea can cause a person to get insufficient sleep during the night. This causes you to become constantly tired during the day, and it can affect your ability to carry out many daytime tasks.

Some people even end up falling asleep in the middle of regular activities such as driving or having a conversation. If sleep apnea is not correctly diagnosed, it can affect your memory, mood, and daytime alertness. More severe conditions can arise such as high blood pressure, heart attack or a stroke.

Applying for Disability Benefits with Sleep Apnea

In order to receive benefits from the SSA for sleep apnea, you must be able to demonstrate how the condition is preventing you from working full-time. The SSA uses an assessment called the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to determine how much you are able to do despite your condition. When preparing this assessment, the SSA analyzes the extent to which your current conditions are preventing you from carrying out any substantial gainful activity.

They also look at any other impairments that arise as a result of your sleep apnea. For example, if you are experiencing excessive daytime fatigue, you may be unable to drive or operate heavy machinery, which impedes your ability to do your job correctly. In addition, you may be at risk of related conditions such as heart failure if you push yourself to do the work that you were previously engaged in before your complications arose.

When submitting your application, it is important to have your doctor clearly specify which limitations your sleep apnea is causing that prevent you from working. The SSA will consider these limitations and how they affect your job responsibilities when preparing your RFC assessment.

Qualifying for Benefits due to Sleep Apnea

It is often difficult for people to prove how sleep apnea is preventing them from working full-time. This is due to the varying and subjective nature of the condition, where some people may be affected more than others and specific conditions may be difficult to prove. The SSA also requires that you submit medical evidence documenting a specific medical condition.

If your sleep apnea is causing heart or mental complications (such as high blood pressure or cognitive disorders), you may be able to qualify for benefits under chronic pulmonary hypertension or organic mental disorders. The impairments caused by sleep apnea may cause you to experience a high blood pressure of 40mm Hg or greater, or mental complications such as memory issues, depression or impaired intellectual capability. Experiencing such conditions often results in eligibility to receive disability benefits.

In the case of determining cognitive impairment, there are certain conditions that you must face in order for the SSA to conclude that your complications are indeed disabling. These conditions are:

  • A reduction in your intellectual capability that leads to a drop of at least 15 IQ points. Other issues such as disorientation while at work, difficulty in concentrating and cognitive problems such as hallucinations are also considered.
  • Mood swings that lead to personality issues such as depression, unstable temper or impulsive decision making that affects your ability to carry out daily functions.
  • The presence of an organic mental disorder that has lasted for a minimum of two years and has impeded your ability to do conduct daily activities. In providing evidence for this condition, you must be able to show that you have been taking the recommended medication or treatment plans recommended by your doctor. You should also be able to show how your condition has not improved and putting pressure on yourself may cause your condition to worsen.

Qualifying for disability benefits with sleep apnea ultimately comes down to your ability to prove how complications arising from the condition are preventing you from working. The complications that sleep apnea may lead to, such as heart and mental conditions, can cause you to be eligible for disability benefits as a result of those complications.


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