Is sleep apnea a disability? If you suffer from this common form of sleep-disordered breathing, you might wonder if it is. It affects your ability to get restful sleep, increasing your risks for a variety of health and safety issues. But is it a disability?
What Is Sleep Apnea?
People with sleep apnea have a hard time breathing or stop breathing for several seconds during sleep. These episodes happen at least 5 times an hour. In the most extreme cases these episodes can last for several minutes and occur a few hundred times a night.
There are two types of sleep apnea. The most common is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). With OSA the airway becomes partially or completely blocked during sleep. This partial or complete blockage prevents air from moving through the lungs.
Central Sleep Apnea (CSA) is less common. CSA is the result of the brain failing to send proper signals to the muscles of the chest involved in breathing. The brain ‘forgets’ to breathe for several seconds to several minutes at a time.
Symptoms Of Sleep Apnea
Someone suffering from sleep apnea may experience the following symptoms:
Observable periods where breathing stops and starts
Choking or gasping during sleep
Excessive daytime sleepiness
Difficulty thinking or concentrating
Changes in mood, especially depression or irritability
High blood pressure
You may not experience all these symptoms. Some sufferers only experience a handful of symptoms. Because many of these symptoms occur during sleep, many are not aware they have the condition. Others may write off their symptoms as something else. Researchers estimate that only approximately 20% of cases are ever diagnosed. Of those cases, most do not seek a diagnosis on their own. A diagnosis of SA is most common after a major adverse health event or after a partner complains.
Complications Of Sleep Apnea
Even mild cases of sleep apnea can cause a variety of health and safety issues. Left untreated sleep apnea contributes to the development of the following conditions:
Many of these conditions also contribute to worsening symptoms of sleep apnea. But, these health issues are not all that make sleep apnea such a dangerous condition. Sleep apnea makes it impossible to get restful sleep. Sufferers report falling asleep many times throughout the day. OSA doubles your risk of workplace accidents. The risk is even higher if your job requires you to do a lot of driving, such as long haul trucking and public transport. Studies show mild to moderate sleep apnea doubles your risk of traffic accidents. For individuals with moderate to severe sleep apnea the risk is 15 times greater. Sleep apnea is the most important preventable cause of traffic and workplace accidents.
Is Sleep Apnea A Disability?
Unfortunately, the Social Security Administration (SSA) no longer lists sleep apnea as a disability. But, that doesn’t mean that you won’t qualify. Sleep apnea contributes to a wide range of physical and mental health issues that are recognized as disabilities.
For example, sleep apnea increases your risk of lung problems like chronic pulmonary hypertension. The Disability Evaluation Under Social Security has a section for respiratory problems. Chronic pulmonary hypertension is listing 3.09. Sleep apnea also contributes to many risk factors for chronic or congestive heart failure. These conditions are included under listing 4.02. There is a long list of criteria you must meet to qualify for disability under those diagnoses. Listing 12.02 covers ‘organic mental disorders’. As defined by the SSA:
Organic Mental Disorders, also referred to as chronic Organic Brain Syndromes, are afflictions of the brain that can lead to severe mental or behavioral problems. They may be permanent or temporary, and can be either hereditary or caused by injury, disease, or a structural or systemic defect in body chemistry or hormones. Organic Mental Disorders do not include disorders that result from substance abuse, nor do they include psychiatric disorders.
This definition covers many of the mental health issues that can result from chronic sleep apnea.
What If I Don’t Qualify?
Not everyone will qualify based on the criteria mentioned above. However, you may qualify based on your Residual Functional Capacity, or RFC. An RFC assessment determines what type of work you are still able to perform in spite of the limitations imposed by your condition. The SSA will look at how your symptoms and other conditions affect your job performance. For example, if you have heart problems as a result of your sleep apnea, you should not be lifting heavy objects. If you struggle with excessive daytime sleepiness, you should not be operating heavy machinery. The SSA may assess your mental RFC too if you have difficulty thinking, concentrating, remembering, or do not work well with others. You will qualify for benefits if your symptoms are severe enough that you are unable to work.
Treating Sleep Apnea
Not everyone with sleep apnea will qualify for disability whether through related diagnoses or their RFC assessment. But the good news is that sleep apnea is highly treatable. Long term solutions involve controlling risk factors that can worsen your symptoms. This might include losing weight or starting medication to control your diabetes or high blood pressure. But getting your underlying conditions under control will take time. You need a good night’s rest, and soon. The best ways to achieve quick relief from your symptoms is to begin sleep apnea therapy. Therapy typically includes the use of a CPAP or similar machine, an oral appliance, or both.
A CPAP is a machine that prevents airway obstruction by creating positive pressure in the airway. The masks required to create a seal around the nose and mouth can be heavy. Many patients have a hard time adjusting to sleeping with the mask on. Patients report they don’t wear it as often as they should.
An oral device fits in the mouth much like an athletic mouthguard. It prevents airway obstruction by shifting the jaw and tongue forward. This helps to eliminate soft palate collapse. A custom oral appliances will form to fit the size and shape of your mouth, providing comfortable, lightweight sleep apnea relief. At Sleep Better Columbus we know how important it is to get a good night’s sleep. With the help of Dr. Mark Levy, we’ll find you just the right form and fit for your custom oral appliance. Our patients report a far better compliance rate with their custom oral appliance. And better compliance means better sleep.
Want to know if sleep apnea is a disability? Call Sleep Better Columbus at (614) 362-7292 for more information.