More than 20 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, although most are undiagnosed and untreated.
Types of Sleep Apnea
There are two types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common and is characterized by loud snoring and daytime sleepiness. It occurs when the throat muscles relax and interfere with air flow. In a single hour, a person can have more than 30 interruptions in breathing. These are called "apneic events.”
Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain neglects to send signals to the muscles that control breathing. Some people have a combination of both types of sleep apnea.
Sleep Apnea Symptoms
Sleep apnea can cause early-morning headaches, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and sleepiness. The biggest risk is falling asleep while driving. Most people can manage sleep apnea by losing weight, avoiding alcohol, stopping smoking, and using a breathing machine called a CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure device.
However, there are people whose apnea cannot be treated. Those people may qualify for SSDI if their symptoms are severe enough to prevent them from working.
Severe sleep apnea symptoms that may qualify for disability benefits:
- Personality changes
- Memory problems
- Severe mood swings, extreme irritability, and other disturbances in mood
- Hallucinations, delusions and other cognitive disturbances
- Emotional instability
- Poor impulse control
- A loss of 15 I.Q. points or more
- Cor Pulmonale, a heart condition caused by years of untreated sleep apnea
Applying for Disability Benefits for Sleep Apnea
When you apply for SSDI, the Social Security Administration will conduct an assessment of your “residual functional capacity,” or “RFC.” Your RFC details what you are capable of doing despite your impairment and is used to determine what kind of work you can do. It will include your doctor’s opinion of your capabilities and restrictions, including comments on how the sleep apnea affects your mental abilities. You should document any other health problems in your application. Your RFC considers ALL your disabilities.
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