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My dad is one of the 24 million Americans who grew up with asthma. He is also allergic to pollen - which made working as a groundskeeper on a golf course pretty challenging. In May, he’d sometimes be unable to work for a full week at a time.

My dad was able to manage his asthma and allergies (for the most part) with medication and a quick-relief asthma inhaler. He was never hospitalized due to an attack. Yet if his asthma was worse, he may have not been able to work at all.

If you or a loved one has severe asthma not controlled with medication, you may be too ill to earn a living. Fortunately, there are resources available if you qualify. The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers help for people who are unable to work because of severe asthma.

How Can I Medically Qualify for Benefits?

When the SSA receives your application for disability benefits, it will compare your illness to its medical guide, known as the Blue Book. The Blue Book lists hundreds of disabilities that potentially qualify for benefits. The Blue Book also notes the required test results and/or symptoms needed for approval.

Asthma is listed in Section 3.00—Respiratory. There are two ways to qualify:

  • If you are diagnosed with chronic asthmatic bronchitis. The SSA will decide based on the results of your breathing tests. You must demonstrate that your lungs are very obstructed and/or that you need oxygen. 
  • If your asthma causes hospitalizations. You may qualify if you follow your treatment plan, yet have more than one asthma flare-up requiring hospitalization every two months, or at least six attacks per year. If you are hospitalized for 24 hours or more, that will count for two attacks. The SSA will look at the past 12 months of medical records when evaluating your claim.

Medically Qualifying Without the Blue Book

It is very challenging to get approved for benefits if your asthma does not meet one of the two previous qualifications. But it is still possible if you meet what’s called a Medical Vocational Allowance. This is when you receive disability benefits even when you clearly do not meet a Blue Book listing. Medical Vocational Allowances are only for people who are unable to perform any work they are qualified for.

Older Americans have a better chance of approval. They are less likely to be retrained for a new position. If you haven’t gone to college, you will also have an easier time qualifying.

Here’s an example: Paul, 60, owns his landscaping business, which he started in high school. He’s had asthma all his life. His symptoms have recently become severe. He has had five attacks in the past year (not the required six). He has never done anything else other than landscaping. Because of his lack of additional work experience and the severe effect of asthma on his ability to work, the SSA might approve Paul for disability benefits through a Medical Vocational Allowance.

How Can I Start the Application Process?

If you believe you may qualify, visit the SSA’s website. You’ll find information on what materials you’ll need to apply, how the application process works and what type of disability benefits you might qualify for.

You can also apply at your local SSA office. Or call the SSA toll-free: 1-800-772-1213.

It is important to stay up-to-date on news about asthma and allergies. By joining our community and following our blog, you will receive news about research and treatments. Our community also provides an opportunity to connect with other patients who manage these conditions for support.



This blog post was provided by Deanna Power, Director of Community Outreach at Social Security Disability Help. She started working with people with disabilities by volunteering with Best Buddies throughout college, and now specializes in helping people of all ages determine how to medically qualify for disability benefits. Contact her at


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All good info! If I might make another suggestion, as a former staffer for the U.S. House of Representatives: once you apply for benefits, it might be good to contact the district office of the Member of the U.S. House of Representatives that represents you ... usually each Member of Congress has constituent services staff members in offices in your congressional district who can help facilitate and follow up on your claim. 

If you don't know who represents you, use this Find Your Representative by zip code.

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