Emphysema – one type of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) – is a type of pulmonary disease that makes it difficult to breathe because of damage to the lungs that occurs over time.

As the damage to the lungs progresses, the more difficult it becomes to breathe. To make matters worse, emphysema is also typically accompanied by chronic bronchitis, the other type of COPD. Besides a history of smoking cigarettes, other causes of emphysema include air pollution, chemical fumes, dust, marijuana smoke and secondhand smoke.

Emphysema / COPD affects men and women nearly equally and roughly 90 percent of all diagnoses are given to people over the age of 45.

Emphysema Symptoms and Treatments

The symptoms of emphysema / COPD will usually begin slowly and progress to become more painful and debilitating. In the early stages, you might experience some shortness of breath during activities that were once easy to complete without breathing hard. As the disease worsens, you will likely have challenges with breathing during even small tasks, along with wheezing, excessive mucus, coughing and more. You may also become irritable, be unable to walk up stairs and lose your mental stamina and mental acumen. You can also expect to experience difficulty sleeping and headaches, and your fingers and lips may begin to turn blue.

Emphysema / COPD does not currently have a cure, meaning the lung damage from emphysema cannot be reversed. Once a person is diagnosed, they will likely live with it for the rest of their life. Some treatments do exist to make the life of emphysema sufferers a bit more comfortable and manageable. Each person will be unique in their treatment plan, and such treatments will often vary based on the stage of the disease. You might be able to treat your condition with various prescribed medications and medical equipment. Some people might benefit from rehabilitation programs, including pulmonary rehabilitation, nutrition therapy and supplemental oxygen. It is also possible you might qualify for surgical procedures to either remove lung tissue that has been damaged or to undergo a lung transplant.

Does Emphysema / COPD Qualify Me for Disability Benefits?

Emphysema / COPD is discussed in the Social Security Administration’s “Blue Book” listing of
disabling conditions, in ​Section 3​ (Respiratory Disorders) under ​paragraph 3.02 (Chronic respiratory disorders).

To qualify under the exact listing (which isn’t always necessary) for Emphysema / COPD, you’ll need to be able to verify that you have been diagnosed with chronic pulmonary disease by a medical professional, and you’ll need to show that your emphysema / COPD has also reached a stage that prevents you from sustaining work. The listing and criteria provided by the SSA is quite complex, and you’ll need to take some specific breathing tests to demonstrate you meet the standards they’ve set.

However, it is possible to qualify for benefits without meeting the exact listing criteria. Because, at the end of the day, what the SSA generally cares about most is whether or not your Emphysema / COPD meets certain requirements, including:

  • That it rises to the level of a “severe impairment”, meaning it impacts your ability to do work;
  • That it, combined with any other impairments you may have, prevent you from sustaining work;
  • That it has affected you, or is expected to affect you, for at least one year (or to result in death).

If that is the case, then you may very well qualify for monthly disability benefits.

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Next Steps

If you suffer from emphysema / COPD and are considering a claim for disability benefits, we recommend you read our articles about the process of applying for SSDI and the way the Social Security Administration uses their Sequential Evaluation Process to determine disability.

This article is presented for general information purposes only. Nothing in this article should be taken as medical advice. Medical decisions (including whether to start, stop, or modify any treatment plan) are extremely important and should always be made with the advice and counsel of a qualified medical professional.

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Since 2010, Citizens Disability has been America’s premier Social Security Disability institution. Our services include helping people in applying for SSDI benefits, managing the process through Reconsideration, and representing people in person at their Hearing, and if necessary, bringing their case to the Appeals Council. Our mission is to give a voice to the millions of Americans who are disabled and unable to work, helping them receive the Social Security Disability benefits to which they may be entitled. Learn more about us and disability benefits like SSDI & SSI or give us a call at (800) 492-3260.

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