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  • Writer's pictureDavid Manes

Is Asthma a Disability?

In society, asthma is rarely considered a disability, but based on its symptoms and effects, asthma is considered by law to be a disability. Although asthma can be treated, an asthma attack can be debilitating since it prevents breathing. In some situations, asthma can be so bad that a person may be unable to work.

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Is Asthma a Disability?

Laurie was diagnosed with asthma at a young age. She keeps the condition controlled. However, at her office, a deep clean occurs a couple of times a month. No warning is given. The strong cleaning products always trigger severe asthma attacks for Laurie. The cleaning agents pollute the air for the next couple of days, continuing to make breathing difficult for Laurie.

Does she have any rights? Does the law protect employees with asthma? Can employees with asthma request reasonable accommodation?

Asthma 101

What is Asthma?

Asthma is defined as a disorder where the bronchial tubes contract abnormally, causing swelling and difficulty breathing.

What are the Symptoms of Asthma?

Asthma symptoms include chest tightness, wheezing, shortness of breath, and coughing.

What Causes Asthma?

Triggers for asthma vary. Sometimes an asthma attack has no clear trigger, which can be frustrating for the individual. Common triggers include allergies, exercise, airborne irritants, cold air, viruses, and emotional upheaval.

ADA Protections vs. SSI Benefits

Employment law ensures that workers receive a number of protections and benefits when they are dealing with a disability or health condition. While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits disability discrimination and provides reasonable accommodations, Social Security Insurance (SSI) benefits are given to people who are unable to work due to their health condition.

Employees need to determine which option is best according to the severity of their asthma.

The Americans with Disabilities Act

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This federal law demands that employers give workers with disabilities full access to everything that a worker without a disability may have. Employees can also request that policies or practices within the company that discriminate against employees with disabilities be altered. The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against employees with disabilities in all employment areas and requires that reasonable accommodations be considered through an interactive process.

ADA and Asthma

Asthma definitely falls under the protections of the ADA. Since ADA defines “disability” as a physical or mental impairment that seriously limits a major life activity. This can also mean impairment of more than one major life activity. And ADA also protects workers who are perceived to have a disability.

In 2008, the ADA definition of “disability” widened to include more people with possible disabilities. This wider definition includes people with conditions that only occur when triggered by certain stimuli. Moreover, ADA no longer excludes people with conditions that can be controlled by a medical aid or device.

ADA Major Life Activity

  1. Breathing

  2. Eating

  3. Going to school/work

  4. Working

ADA Reasonable Accommodations

One of the main benefits of the ADA are reasonable accommodations. These accommodations ensure that every worker receives the fair opportunity to work benefits. Once an employer is notified that an employee needs a reasonable accommodation, the employer is obligated by law to enter into an interactive process with the employee to determine the right accommodation.

ADA encourages everyone to work together to improve and promote equality for individuals with disabilities.

Reasonable Accommodations for Asthma

  1. Work space reorganization for odor reduction

  2. Reduce workplace allergens

  3. Work from home

  4. Old carpet removal

Undue Burden

In some cases, an employer may claim undue burden at a request of reasonable accommodation. An undue burden is when the employer doesn’t have the resources to provide an accommodation. But, the employer must take steps to try to meet the reasonable accommodations and can only claim undue burden once all options have been considered.

Seek ADA Accommodations

If you have asthma and it’s making it difficult for you to work, speak with your boss or your human resources to request reasonable accommodation. Both you and your employer must take part in the interactive process.

Social Security Insurance

Determining eligibility for Social Security Insurance benefits can be a long process for applicants because the Social Security Administration (SSA) must first decide if you are eligible. This means that the SSA checks whether or not you are working and if you are making more than $1,170 per month. The SSA also checks to see if your asthma severity will last at least a year.

SSA Requirements for Asthma Disability

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Due to the nature of SSI benefits, the SSA tries to choose individuals to receive the disability benefits very carefully. If you meet the SSA list requirements for asthma, you receive automatic approval.

Chronic Asthma and Symptoms

  1. Three complications requiring hospital care

  2. Within a one-year period

  3. Hospitalization must last at least 48 hours

  4. Consecutive hospitalizations at least 30 days apart

  5. Your FEV1 (forced expiatory volume in 1 second) value must be match the Social Security chart for asthma listing based on your age, gender, and height.

What Kind of Medical Evidence of Asthma Do I Need?

A spirometry test measures how much air you breathe in each breath along with the rate of your breath. This is where the FEV1 value comes from. The test measures how much breath you can force out in one second.

Keeping detailed records of a year of severe asthma can be crucial to receiving SSI benefits. You should be able to provide information on your hospitalizations as well as treatments. You must also show that you were following your doctor’s plan for preventing asthma attacks. Include contact information for every hospital, clinic, or medical facility that you visit for asthma treatment. Be sure to know medication names and dosages.

If you have severe asthma and believe that your employer is failing to provide a reasonable accommodation to you, reach out to a disability lawyer for your legal solutions.

Chat with an employment attorney: (412) 626-5626 or

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