Around 25 million people¹ in the United States have asthma. Asthma symptoms include coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. The severity and frequency of these symptoms can vary.
Some people may experience symptoms so severe that the condition makes it difficult or impossible for them to participate in everyday tasks, such as going to school or work.
When your asthma symptoms interrupt daily life and limit your ability to participate in activities, you may qualify for protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and disability benefits.
Learn more about when asthma qualifies as a disability and how the ADA may protect you at school, work, and other areas of your life.
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Asthma is a chronic inflammatory condition affecting the lungs. When you have asthma, your lung tissue becomes hypersensitive to certain triggers. These triggers vary from person to person. Common triggers include:
Changes in the weather
When you encounter these triggers, the tissue in your airways can become inflamed and swollen. This narrows the air passages, making it hard to breathe. This is an asthma attack. These attacks vary in frequency and severity and may get better or worse over time.
Symptoms of an asthma attack include:
Shortness of breath
Tightness in the chest
While there is currently no cure for asthma, treatments are available to manage asthma symptoms. Treatment plans might include medications such as bronchodilators and corticosteroids, which relax and expand the airways.
Lifestyle changes such as stopping smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and increasing exercise can strengthen your lungs and reduce the severity of asthma symptoms. Surgery may be an option in severe persistent asthma that doesn’t respond to medications.
Most people can successfully manage their asthma symptoms and lead healthy, active lives. However, asthma can become debilitating when it doesn't respond well to medication. Knowing your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is vital in these cases.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)², asthma is considered a disability. This law protects you if you have asthma. You cannot be discriminated against, harassed, or coerced at work, school, or other public places because of your asthma symptoms.
You can ask your workplace or school to make reasonable accommodations for your asthma. This might mean allowing you to work from home at certain times of the year, changing cleaning products, or replacing old carpets.
What qualifies as "reasonable accommodations" will vary depending on the establishment's ability to meet your needs. However, under the ADA, they must do what they can.
If you feel they aren't working with you, you can contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)³ to register an official complaint. If you need help with another establishment, such as a school, you can contact the ADA hotline at 800-514-0301 (voice) or 800-514-0383 (TTY).
While the ADA will protect you against discrimination due to your asthma, an asthma diagnosis won't automatically qualify you for disability benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA)⁴ handles the evaluation and distribution of disability benefits. It considers asthma a disability if it meets certain criteria.
When Congress first passed the ADA in 1990, the bill's text implied that for a condition to be a disability, it had to have a continual impact on the person's life. Under the original law, asthma wouldn't qualify because asthma symptoms come and go.
However, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA)⁵ in 2008. This amendment to the original law clarified that a condition could be a disability even if it’s episodic (occasional.) The amendment also clarified that certain conditions are a disability even if you use devices to control the symptoms, such as using an inhaler for asthma.
Under these new definitions, asthma qualifies as a disability under the ADA.
Legally, a disability is any condition that limits your activities or your ability to participate in the world around you. This might include going to work, participating in hobbies, or interacting with friends and family. Your healthcare team must expect your condition to last more than a year. Disabilities may be mental or physical conditions.
If you have an asthma diagnosis from a doctor, you already qualify for protection under the ADA. You'll need to go directly to your employer, school, or other public space to request reasonable accommodation for your condition.
You may find it helpful to come to them with a suggestion. For example, if certain perfumes trigger your asthma, you might suggest making the workplace a perfume-and-scent-free zone. Or, if cleaners used at your child's school are triggering their asthma symptoms, you might request that they use different cleaning supplies.
To qualify for disability benefits, you'll need to fulfill specific criteria outlined by the Social Security Administration. They are responsible for approving and administering disability benefits.
The requirements to qualify for benefits include:
Having an asthma diagnosis by a medical professional
Your asthma attacks must last for an extended period, at least a day.
Your asthma must require "intensive treatment," which includes using an intravenous bronchodilator, treatment in a hospital or emergency room, or antibiotics.
Your asthma attacks must happen even while under treatment by a doctor and occur at least six times a year.
Your symptoms must prevent you from being employed or participating in substantial gainful activity.
You will need documentation of your condition from your doctor. You may also need testing to determine how much your asthma symptoms impact your lung function.
If you believe you qualify for disability benefits, you can apply through the Social Security website.
While there is no cure for asthma, many treatment options can help you control the symptoms. When these symptoms are under control, they should have little or no impact on your daily life. However, the severity and frequency of your asthma attacks can change over time.
They may become better or worse with changes to your lifestyle, medication, or exposure to specific triggers.
One of the most effective methods of living with asthma is identifying and controlling your exposure to asthma triggers. These triggers are different for everyone. Pet dander may be a trigger for one person with asthma but not affect someone else with asthma.
Your doctor can help you identify asthma triggers through allergen testing and exercise or exposure challenges. However, some triggers are harder to identify. There is no test to determine triggers such as changes in the weather or hormone fluctuations.
You may be able to identify these yourself by keeping a journal of your asthma symptoms and looking for patterns.
It's important to speak to your doctor if you are experiencing asthma symptoms for the first time or if your symptoms seem to worsen. They can develop a treatment plan that might include a change in medication or lifestyle changes. In some cases, surgical procedures like bronchial thermoplasty may be the best option.
More than 25 million people in the United States have asthma. This chronic inflammatory condition affects the lungs, causing tissue in the airways to become inflamed and swollen. This makes it difficult to breathe. Asthma symptoms range from mild to severe.
Anyone with asthma qualifies for protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employers, schools, and other public places must make reasonable accommodations for your asthma. You may qualify for disability benefits if your asthma attacks require intensive intervention and you experience attacks six or more times per year.
While asthma symptoms can be disruptive, many treatment options can control them. You can work with your doctor to create a treatment plan, including medications, lifestyle changes, or surgery. If you are experiencing asthma symptoms for the first time or feel your symptoms are getting worse, make an appointment with your doctor immediately.
Asthma in the US | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Are asthma and allergies disabilities? | Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
Filing a complaint with the equal employment opportunity commission | Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Disability evaluation under social security | Social Security Administration
ADA amendment act of 2008 | U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Asthma and social security disability | Disability Benefits Help
Bronchial thermoplasty | Yale School of Medicine
Are asthma and allergies disabilities? | Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
Is asthma a disability eligible for social security benefits? | Allergy and Asthma Network
Do experts consider asthma a disability? | Medical News Today
Americans with disabilities act of 1990 (Original text) | U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Disability and health overview | Centers for Disease and Control Prevention