Did You Know That Asthma is a Disability?

When I was asked recently, "Is asthma a disability?", I didn't expect to find out the answer is yes. I mean, I've been living with asthma my entire life of 64 years, and I have never felt disabled by it. Annoyed, sometimes; frustrated, maybe; but not to the point of disability. But then, my asthma is classified as mild, intermittent.

The story is quite different for those of you with severe, persistent asthma, especially when it is resistant to treatment. I understand that. And it is precisely that type of asthmatic who is most likely to feel that asthma interferes with what are called "major life activities."

Let's explore this subject in more detail.

Defining disability

NOTE: My frame of reference is United States law. There are also laws that govern disability as relates to asthma in the U.K., and possibly other countries as well.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA, for short) is part of our national civil rights and was originally passed in 1991. The regulations and requirements have been updated several times over the years, most recently in late 2016.1

The ADA gives people with disabilities protection from discrimination. It also gives them the same full access to all facilities, programs, goods, and services as people without disabilities. You should never be denied services or left out just because you have a disability. Facilities that receive Federal funding are particularly held to this standard. This includes places such as:2

  • Restaurants
  • Theaters
  • Hotels
  • Doctors’ offices
  • Stores
  • Non-religious private schools
  • Child care programs
  •  Museums

The ADA defines disability as "Someone who has a physical or mental impairment that seriously limits one or more major life activities, or who is regarded as having such impairments."2

Major life activities include:

  • Breathing
  • Eating
  • Working
  • Going to school

It's easy to see how asthma could interfere with all of those at times.

How asthma qualifies as a disability

Asthma (and allergies) weren't always included in the definition of disability though. It seems that this was because people with asthma:

The law changed in 2008 when the ADA was expanded to include conditions that only show symptoms at certain times. Both allergies and asthma meet this definition. So, even if you only have asthma attacks when you encounter certain triggers, you're still covered under the ADA. In fact, the ADA can even help you avoid your triggers in work or other public situations by creating a safer, healthier environment.2

How does the ADA help people with asthma?

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America goes into more detail about how the ADA applies to people with asthma and allergies in this article. They also talk about how to request your rights, and what limits there may be on them.

In addition, there is an ADA hotline, run by the U.S. Department of Justice at 800-514-0301 (voice) or 800-514-0383 (TTY). You can also visit the ADA website.

Additional disability benefits

Even people like me with mild, intermittent asthma are protected under the ADA. But if you have severe asthma that interferes with your major life activities on a regular, ongoing basis, there may be more benefits available to you.

If your asthma is interfering with your ability to work or with school, the first step is to talk to your employer or school staff. Find out what reasonable accommodations might be made to allow you time off for treatment or recovery from severe asthma attacks. You might also explore whether changes in the environment or your duties could help maintain your asthma control.

Main ways a severe asthmatic might qualify for medical benefits

However, if measures such as those don't help, then it may be time to see if you qualify for Social Security Disability. Currently, there are 2 main ways a severe asthmatic might qualify for medical benefits:5

  • If you have chronic asthmatic bronchitis, as verified by breathing tests and/or being on oxygen
  • If you have been hospitalized at least 6 times in the last 12 months for asthma attacks

In some cases, it may be possible to quality for these benefits even if you don't meet one of the criteria above. This site lists some additional "medical vocational rules," which are based on age, that might qualify you.6

For more information and to explore the possibility of Social Security Disability, you can:

  • Visit the Social Security Administration website
  • Stop in to your local Social Security office
  • Call them at: 1-800-772-1213

In summary

You may or may not consider yourself to be disabled because of asthma. But regardless of how you feel, it's important to know that you do have certain rights under the law. This law can help protect you and keep your asthma from becoming an even more disruptive factor in your life.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Asthma.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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