Does Sleep Apnea Qualify As A Disability?

People who suffer from sleep apnea are well aware that this condition can make it difficult to function normally. It is common for people who suffer from sleep apnea to have a great deal of difficulty completing routine tasks, including work-related tasks. It may seem like sleep apnea would be grounds to receive disability benefits, but it isn’t.

While this is certainly unfortunate for those who have had their work negatively affected due to sleep apnea, there is still hope. While sleep apnea itself is not a qualifying condition, there are qualifying conditions related to sleep apnea. Read on to learn more about how you can qualify for disability benefits if you have sleep apnea.

Related Conditions That May Qualify You for Disability

There are three conditions that people with sleep apnea commonly have that could qualify them for disability benefits. These conditions include chronic pulmonary hypertension, chronic heart failure, and chronic depression. Each of these conditions has its own set of criteria that must be met for an affected person to qualify for disability benefits. Of course, there is always a chance that an affected person could get denied for benefits.

Chronic Pulmonary Hypertension

One of the most common ways that people with sleep apnea can qualify for disability benefits is through having chronic pulmonary hypertension. Sleep apnea can cause oxygen levels in your blood to decrease, a condition known as hypoxemia. This can, in turn, lead to increased blood pressure in the arteries that carry blood from your lungs to your heart. When this condition continues to occur over a long period of time, it is known as chronic pulmonary hypertension.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has very specific criteria for when chronic pulmonary hypertension may qualify an affected person for disability benefits. Their pulmonary artery blood pressure must be 40 mm Hg or greater. This measurement must be taken by cardiac catheterization when the person is medically stable.

Chronic Heart Failure

One of the most serious problems that may be caused or exacerbated by sleep apnea is chronic heart failure. Chronic heart failure is also known as congestive heart failure. As you might expect, the SSA has lengthy and specific criteria for when a person with chronic heart failure may qualify for disability benefits. To put it in general terms, the chronic heart failure must have continued for a long period of time, and it must be expected to continue for a long period of time.

Related Mental Disorders

You may not think of mental disorders when you think of sleep apnea, but sleep apnea can cause or exacerbate depression. If the depression is long-lasting and severe enough to hinder the affected person’s ability to work, they may qualify for disability benefits. It should be noted that the criteria for qualifying for disability benefits due to a mental disorder are more subjective than it is for a physical health problem. This may make it more difficult to qualify for benefits at first. Many people who suffer from mental disorders are initially refused benefits, then have their applications accepted on appeal. It should be noted that many successful appellants hire an attorney to help them through the process.

Residual Functional Capacity

Even if you do not have any of the related conditions described above (or you do have one of those conditions but don’t meet the SSA’s criteria) you may still qualify for disability benefits. The SSA has created the residual functional capacity program for disabled people who do not have one of the listed qualifying conditions. While getting approved for disability benefits is never easy, the majority of people who do get approved are approved through the residual functional capacity criteria. As sleep apnea is not a listed condition, many people who suffer from it may look to get approved through these criteria..

What is Residual Functional Capacity?

Residual functional capacity measures how much your condition hinders your ability to work. The SSA will first look at how your condition hinders your ability to do your current or most recent job. Next, they will look at how your condition affects your ability to do any job. If your condition prevents you from working a job that you might qualify for, you may be approved for benefits.

How the Social Security Administration Determines Residual Functional Capacity

The SSA determines your level of residual functional capacity by examining your medical records. They will look at any relevant exams or tests that have been performed by one of your physicians. The SSA also may have one of their physicians examine you to determine your capacity for work.

The SSA will assign you a rating that describes the work you are capable of doing. These ratings include sedentary, light, medium, and heavy work. The higher the RFC rating, the more jobs you could possibly do. This is why it is harder to get approved for benefits if you have an RFC rating of medium or heavy.

Receiving Benefits Under a Medical-Vocational Allowance

If you have an RFC rating that is equivalent to or greater than the RFC rating needed to do your old job, your claim will be denied immediately. Even if your RFC rating is lower than that required to do your old job, you may still be denied benefits. For example, if your old job has an RFC rating of heavy, but you have received an RFC rating of sedentary, the SSA will see if there are any desk jobs that your old job qualified you for. If there are, your claim will be denied. If you are not qualified for any of the jobs at an equivalent or lessor RFC rating, you may be approved for benefits. As you can see, this process is quite complex and is best navigated with the assistance of an experienced attorney.


Dan was diagnosed with sleep apnea in 2017 when he was only 32 years old. He has been using a BIPAP machine for his treatment. He hopes to provide a patient's perspective on the sleep apnea experience. Dan lives in Tampa with his girlfriend and 2 dogs.

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