You had your first asthma attack when you were 12 years old. For a kid that age, it was the scariest thing in the world. It felt like all of the oxygen in your lungs suddenly disappeared, and no matter how hard you tried to gulp for air—you still couldn’t breathe. Since that day, you’ve kept an inhaler on you at all times and a nebulizer breathing machine stowed in your bathroom. Even on your wedding day, you had an inhaler tucked in your dress and the breathing machine in the hotel room. You try to be prepared at all times, but over the past few months the attacks have been getting worse.

On several occasions, your husband has had to puff the medication into your mouth because the attack happened while you were sleeping, and you awoke in a panic. Your boss is getting increasingly annoyed with you because you’ve had to excuse yourself on more than one occasion to catch your breath. The emergency room staff practically knows you by name, and you don’t know what to do. It’s getting worse and you’re scared to leave the house.

Your doctor suggested that you take a leave of absence from work, but your boss told you that if you did, you may not have a job to come back to. You have filed for disability benefits, but the application wanted proof of your ailment through medical documentation and test results. One of the tests it mentioned for respiratory issues was a spirometry test.

What is a spirometry test and how do you get one?

Measuring Your Lung Capacity Through Spirometry

In order for the Social Security Administration (SSA) to decide whether or not you qualify for disability benefits you must be able to provide medical evidence to support your respiratory claim. One way of accomplishing this is to provide documentation taken from lung tests, specifically a spirometry test. If you’ve suffered from chronic asthma then you’ve probably taken a spirometry test, even if you didn’t know it by name.

The Mayo Clinic defines spirometry as the first and most commonly done lung function test to determine how well your lungs work while inhaling and exhaling. It measures the capacity and time it takes for you to move air in and out of your lungs. The procedure consists of you breathing into a mouthpiece which is attached to a recording device. The device (the actual spirometer) will then record the variations of each breath and measure 10 different lung function values to determine the severity of your respiratory issue. These value functions include:

  • Forced vital capacity (FVC) – Measurement of the amount of air you can exhale after you inhale as deeply as possible.
  • Forced expiratory volume (FEV) – Measurement of the amount of air you can forcibly exhale in one continuous breath. An average person should be able to exhale between 80 – 100 percent in one second. However, those who suffer respiratory problems could take longer to fully exhale. Depending on how much you exhale, the FEV will be determined at one second (FEV1), two seconds (FEV2), or three seconds (FEV3).
  • Forced expiratory flow (FEF) – Measurement of air speed and percent of your FVC—25 percent, 50 percent, or 75 percent—halfway through your exhale.
  • Peak expiratory flow (PEF) – Measurement of how much air you can exhale when you try your hardest.
  • Maximum voluntary ventilation (MVV) – Measurement of the greatest amount of air you can breathe in and out during the span of one minute.
  • Slow vital capacity (SVC) – Measurement of the amount of air you can slowly exhale after you inhale as deep as possible.
  • Total lung capacity (TLC) – Measurement of the amount of air in your lungs after you inhale as deeply as possible.
  • Functional residual capacity (FRC) – Measurement of the amount of air in your lungs at the end of a normal exhaled breath.
  • Residual volume (RV) – Measurement of the amount of air in your lungs after you have exhaled completely. This procedure is generally done by having you breathe in helium or nitrogen gas and then seeing how much is exhaled.
  • Expiratory reserve volume (ERV) – Measurement of the difference between the amount of air in your lungs after a normal exhale (FRC) and the amount after you exhale with force (RV).

Get the Test to Get the Approval

In order to improve your odds for approval of your disability claim, ask your doctor to perform a spirometry test and make sure you get a copy of the results. The more information you give to the Social Security board, the better your odds of getting the disability you deserve.

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John L. Keefe
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Founding Attorney, Massachusetts Social Security Disability Lawyer