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Can I Claim Sleep Apnea as a Social Security Disability?

Published February 1st, 2022 by Chris Riley
Fact Checked by
Jacqueline Hensler
Medically Reviewed:
Erik Rivera

Sleep Apnea 101 | Different Types | Complications | Disability Facts | Applying for disability benefits

If you are unable to work because of sleep apnea, you may be wondering if you can claim disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA).

Sleep apnea is a condition that causes breathing to stop and start repeatedly during sleep. This condition can lead to fatigue, daytime drowsiness, and other health problems.

In this article, we will discuss whether or not sleep apnea is considered a disability by the SSA, as well as what you should know when applying for benefits.

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that is caused by obstruction of the airway. It can be due to enlarged tonsils, obesity, or structural problems in the throat among other factors.

Sleep apnea is common, usually affecting adults although children can have it too.

What happens when you sleep is that your airway is blocked and you stop breathing for a period of time.

This can happen multiple times throughout the night, disrupting your sleep and lead to daytime drowsiness and other problems.

The symptoms of sleep apnea can vary depending on the person, but usually include fatigue, drowsiness, morning headaches, and difficulty concentrating, among others.

Snoring is also the most common symptom of sleep apnea. 

is sleep apnea a disability

What are the different kinds of sleep apnea?

There are different types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), central sleep apnea (CSA), and mixed sleep apnea (MSA) which is also called complex sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type and is caused by obstruction of the airway.

Central sleep apnea is a less common form of sleep apnea  and is due to a problem with the brain not sending signals to your body to perform breathing.

Mixed sleep apnea is a type of sleep apnea that is a combination of both obstructive and central sleep apnea.

What are the complications of sleep apnea?

There are a few complications that can occur with sleep apnea including:

Daytime drowsiness

Sleepiness during the day is the most common complication and is due to not getting enough restful sleep.

This can lead to problems at work or school, car accidents, and other safety risks.

High blood pressure

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is another complication of sleep apnea.

When you have sleep apnea and don't get enough restful sleep, your body is in a constant state of stress. This can lead to high blood pressure over time.

Heart disease

Sleep apnea has also been linked to an increased risk for heart disease.

The stress that is put on the body from not getting enough restful sleep can cause damage to the heart over time.

Stroke

Sleep apnea is also linked to an increased risk for stroke.

When you have sleep apnea it's possible you are not getting enough oxygen in your body which can cause damage to the brain over time.

Depression

People with sleep apnea are also at an increased risk for depression.

When you don't receive a good night's sleep, you can feel irritable when you are awake which can put you in a bad mood. 

Morning headaches

People who have sleep apnea can also experience morning headaches.

A lack of oxygen is common with this disorder and is often worse when you first wake up in the morning.

These are some of the most common complications, although there are others.

If you believe you are suffering from sleep apnea please talk to your doctor, sleep specialist, or healthcare provider about treatment options.

What are SSI and SSDI?

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a program run by the Social Security Administration (SSA) that provides benefits to people who are unable to work due to a disability.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is also run by SSA and is a needs-based program that provides benefits to disabled individuals and their families.

The difference between the two is that SSDI is based on work history and is available to those who have worked in the past.

SSI is needs-based and is available to anyone who meets the eligibility requirements, including children.

Is sleep apnea a disability?

Unfortunately, the Social Security Administration's Blue Book, which is a document detailing all disabilities covered by the SSA, does not consider sleep apnea in any form to be a disability.

However, the SSA does consider some of the complications caused by sleep apnea to be covered.

The SSA considers breathing disorders, heart problems, and mental deficits disabilities that can be covered, which are all complications from sleep apnea.

Chronic pulmonary hypertension, or high blood pressure in the lungs, is a medical condition that can help you qualify for medical disability.

For this to happen, you need to get your pulmonary artery pressure tested by your doctor to see if your pulmonary hypertension is greater than 40 mm Hg to qualify.

Chronic heart failure, also known as congestive heart failure, refers to your heart's inability to pump and provide enough oxygen for your body. It is possible for this to happen due to sleep apnea.

Lastly, due to the lack of quality rest, sleep apnea can also cause mental disorders such as intellectual difficulties, depression, and anxiety.

These conditions could possibly prevent you from doing your job properly due to a mental deficit.

It is possible that you qualify for the above complications and you should talk to your doctor and the SSA to see if you qualify.

What is residual functional capacity?

If you do not qualify with a breathing disorder, heart problem or mental deficit, there is one other way to possibly receive disability from the SSA due to your sleep apnea.

Residual functional capacity (RFC) is a term used by the SSA to describe how much work you are able to do while living with a disability.

If you can show that your sleep apnea prevents you from doing even a minimal amount of work, you can be approved for disability benefits. This is a very difficult process and is often not successful.

Can I qualify for disability through the SSA with residual functional capacity?

The short answer is yes, but it is very difficult. The long answer is that to qualify for disability benefits through the SSA with residual functional capacity, you need to meet their definition of disability, which is the inability to do any substantial gainful activity (SGA).

To qualify for substantial gainful activity, you need to show that your sleep apnea prevents you from doing even a minimal amount of work.

This is often very difficult to prove as some jobs do not require a lot of physical effort.

What should I know when applying for disability benefits?

When applying for disability benefits, it is important to be as thorough as possible.

You want to provide accurate information about your work history, medical conditions, and how they affect your day-to-day life.

It is also important to have all of your medical records ready.

You'll want to include doctor's notes, test results, and sleep study results.

You must have your current diagnosis of sleep apnea from a doctor to even begin to start the claims of disability compensation for sleep apnea.

If you are denied a disability claim, don't give up. You can appeal the decision and often providing more information or getting a doctor to write a letter in support of your claim can help you win your case.

Summary

Sleep apnea is not currently considered a disability by the Social Security Administration, but there are ways to qualify for benefits if you have other medical conditions caused by sleep apnea that do qualify.

Residual functional capacity is a term used by the SSA to describe how much work you are still able to do despite your disability and can be used as grounds for disability benefits if you can show that your sleep apnea prevents you from doing any minimal amount of work.

It is important to provide accurate information when applying for disability benefits and to have all of your medical records ready.

If you are denied benefits, you still have an option to appeal the decision. If you have any more questions please contact your doctor, sleep specialist, healthcare provider, or the SSA for more clarity. 

References and Sources:

NIH

Social Security Administration

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