What is COPD Disability?

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  • Written By: Marlene Garcia
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 25 August 2019
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A COPD disability is a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease that prevents a person from performing his or her work duties. COPD can cause shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing that results in fatigue. If the patient can show that he or she is unable to work because of COPD, Social Security disability insurance might be available. The person applying for disability must provide documentation of the lung condition.

In the US, the Social Security Administration uses a five-part test to determine if someone suffers a permanent disability. First, it looks at income earned to decide if the applicant was gainfully employed. Documentation of medical tests and treatment is used to measure how severe the COPD disability might be, and whether it interferes with work duties.

A doctor will typically order lung x-rays to diagnose a COPD disability. Tests can also determine the severity of the lung disorder and what treatment might help. Blood tests can show how much oxygen is reaching the brain and the rest of the body. Sometimes the patient will be asked to exercise while lung capacity is measured.


The Social Security Administration maintains a list of conditions that may qualify someone as disabled. COPD disability is on the list, but the applicant still must show that the condition is severe enough to prevent him or her from working. If Social Security investigators find the applicant cannot return to the previous workplace, and is unable to perform another type of work, he or she is likely to be approved for disability payments. The agency considers the person's education and age, and skills that may be transferred to a different occupation.

Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the most common types of COPD disabilities. Some patients have both lung conditions, which restrict the air sacs in the lungs from filling up with oxygen. Decreased lung function might cause the patient to become winded during physical activity as simple as walking. He or she might also cough up mucus regularly.

COPD disability is commonly caused by smoking cigarettes. It can also arise from working in an environment polluted with dust, chemicals, or other contaminants. Second-hand smoke is also linked to COPD, which is a permanent condition. Sometimes after contracting COPD, an employee cannot return to a workplace that is polluted.

Medication can sometimes provide temporary relief for breathing problems through the use of inhalers. Some patients use portable oxygen to increase lung function and provide adequate oxygen to the blood. In severe cases, surgery might be performed to remove part of the lung containing collapsed air sacs.


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