Important: We updated this article in May 2022 to reflect current SSA policy data. You cannot cure emphysema, a condition which severely limits your ability to breathe. This chronic disorder gradually worsens over time, scarring the small air sacs inside your lungs. Emphysema essentially weakens your lungs, which makes breathing (and working) extremely difficult after a certain point. If your breathing problems force you to stop working, you should apply for Social Security disability benefits. But in order to qualify, you must first pass a series of tests to prove you’re unable to work.
Medical Records You’ll Need When Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits
No matter what your impairment is, you must submit complete documentation about your diagnosis to the Social Security Administration. This is also true for emphysema. The SSA’s eligibility requirements for respiratory disorders include:
- Your complete medical history (i.e., diagnosis date, progress notes, regularly scheduled doctor’s visits/treatments)
- Imaging/lung scans (i.e., x-rays, CT scans, MRIs)
- Physical exam findings (i.e., lung capacity changes, pulmonary function updates, etc.)
You must prove your emphysema limits your ability to work for at least one year. To do this, your DDS doctor may schedule an exam and administer several tests. Each one serves a unique role in showing how well you can (or cannot) breathe.
Emphysema Tests You Must Take to Qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits
The four tests below are required for most SSD applicants with emphysema. You must breathe regular room air for any tests the SSA requires you to take. If you use supplementary oxygen, tell your DDS examiner before testing begins.
Emphysema Test #1: Spirometry
This test measures how well you can move air both into and out of your lungs. The test requires you to complete three forced “expiratory maneuvers” in a row. That means you’ll breathe in as deeply as possible, then force out as much air back out as you can. The volume of air your lungs exhale during that very first second is called FEV1 (Forced Exhalation Volume). After three tries, the SSA uses your highest FEV1 reading to evaluate you.
Emphysema Test #2: DLCO (Diffusing Capacity of Lungs for Carbon Monoxide)
This emphysema test measures the gas exchange levels across your lungs’ cell membranes. Or, how efficient are your lungs at transferring oxygen from the air you breathe into your red blood cells? The SSA averages your two DLCO measurements. Your exam doctor then uses that final number to evaluate your respiratory disorder.
Emphysema Test #3: ABG (Arterial Blood Gas)
This emphysema test measures how much oxygen and carbon dioxide is in your blood. The SSA may perform this test while you rest. Or, the doctor may have you exercise for four minutes first. You can do the exercise ABG test either walking on a treadmill or with a cycle ergometer.
Emphysema Test #4: Pulse Oximetry
This emphysema test measures your blood’s oxygen saturation levels (also referred to as SpO2). The DDS doctor might perform this test while you’re at rest, during a six-minute walk or immediately after walking.
Emphysema May Indicate Other Serious Health Problems
Emphysema is sometimes a symptom linked to another illness or associated condition — rather than the sole impairment. Some illnesses where emphysema may be an associated condition include:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Chronic or acute bronchitis
- Pulmonary fibrosis
And emphysema can lead to further complications that strengthen your disability benefits claim. Because it weakens your lungs, emphysema sufferers are more likely to develop:
- Collapsed lung (pneumothorax)
- Heart problems
- Bullae (large holes in the lungs)
Don’t assume you already have these conditions before you apply. Have your doctor confirm all suspected issues or related symptoms. The more health problems you list on your emphysema claim, the higher your chances for approval! Other symptoms that likely limit your ability to work include:
- Mental impairment (i.e., confusion from not getting enough oxygen)
You May Qualify for Legal Assistance
Convincing medical proof is just step one towards claim approval. We suggest talking to a Social Security lawyer before you apply. These lawyers always work on contingency. That means you’ll pay nothing for legal advice about your specific situation. Even better, having a disability attorney nearly triples your benefit approval chances!
In fact, attorneys can review your application and help correct any mistakes before you file. This is smart, since 2 in 5 first-time filers are denied benefits due to paperwork errors! Already applied, but got denied? Attorneys won’t take you as a client unless they think that you’ll win. And if you do win, then you’ll only pay a small, one-time fee.
Ready to see if you may qualify? Click the button below to start your free disability benefits evaluation now.
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Mandy Voisin is a freelance writer, blogger, and author of Girls of the Ocean and Star of Deliverance. As an accomplished content marketing consultant, mom of four and doctor's wife, Mandy has written hundreds of articles about dangerous drugs and medical devices, medical issues that impact disabled Americans, veterans' healthcare and workers' compensation issues since 2016.