Is sleep apnea a disability? How does the FDA define disability?

Employment laws in the United States restrict employers to discriminate against employment opportunities based on disabilities.

To the same extent, EEOC – The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission isn’t sure whether sleep apnea meets the definition presented by ADA. This initiated the uncertainties with sleep apnea sufferers and they are seeking answers for ‘Is sleep apnea a disability?’

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a serious sleeping disorder in which a person stops breathing during his sleep. If ADA defines a disability in which a person is limited to perform physical or mental activity, then what life activity does a condition called sleep apnea impair?

Does ADA consider sleep apnea a disability? Can someone be fired if he’s suffering from sleep apnea? A potential employer can be justified for dismissing an employee if his illness causes the coworkers, clients, or customers life or property threatening risks such as OSA.

But sleep apnea without hindering a major life activity can be dangerous for the sufferer. In sleep apnea, the upper airways of the person get obstructed which often interferes in the sleeping cycle.

The condition initiates loud snoring and choking sounds while repeatedly breathing abnormalities disturbs the sleep causing fatigue and restlessness.

If left untreated, it can worsen the conditions of a patient and cause serious diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular ailments. The question that relates to the diseases with the employment context is whether the patient would be able to perform the job without falling asleep during the working hours due to the last night’s disturbed sleep cycles.

Types of sleep apnea

There are three main types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Central Sleep apnea
  • Complex sleep apnea syndrome

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of sleep apnea where the muscles of the thorax relax and block the airways. This form of sleep apnea is often linked with obesity apart from aging.

Another, but the less common type is central sleep apnea – where the central part of your nervous system paralyzes for a while and stops sending messages to lungs and muscles to breathe.

Complex sleep apnea also called treatment-emergent central sleep apnea where a person suffers from both obstructive and central sleep apneas at the same time. If left untreated, these conditions cause brain and heart diseases in the long run.

Risks and complications of sleep apnea

Oftentimes, people are unaware of their sleep apnea problem until the disease worsens. Some people with severe cases of sleep apnea are continuously being awakened due to breathing obstruction.

People who do not get sleep abruptions would likely have fatigue and tiredness during all their working days. Possibly, they also feel severe headaches and feel irritable in the morning.

The condition can even worsen from just snoring and awakening during the night. During the episodes of sleep apnea when a person is asleep, the oxygen levels on his body may also decrease which is known as hypoxemia.

This may cause the fluctuation of oxygen levels in your blood which eventually leads the person to a condition known as pulmonary vascular hypertension (a condition where the blood pressure through the veins which carry blood from the lungs to the heart gets high). This may also result in heart failure or enlargement of the heart that may instigate serious heart diseases.

  • Risk factors

There’s no age limit or any reason for sleep apnea to happen, it can affect anyone of any age with significant health risks.

Health factors that are associated with an increase in obstructive sleep apnea include:

  • Excess weight
  • A narrowed airway
  • Neck circumference
  • Being older
  • Being male
  • Use of alcohol
  • Family history
  • Nasal congestion
  • Medical congestion
  • Smoking

Risks that increase central sleep apnea symptoms include:

  • Being older and male
  • Heart disorders
  • Strokes
  • Using Narcotics
  • Pain killers

Is sleep apnea a disability under the ADA?

According to the American Disability Act (ADA), sleep apnea which disturbs the breathing ability of an employee at night but does not affect his ability to think and breathe during the day is not considered a disability under ADA.

Qualifying for Disability for sleep apnea

SSA – The Social Security Administration doesn’t provide a listing for disability concerning sleep apnea. SSA disability listing does cover other breathing disorders, mental defects, and heart diseases in disability listing.

Having diseases that are listed in the SSA disability list can make you eligible to receive benefits against your disability. If you can qualify by meeting the required criteria of the disability listing due to sleep apnea, you can receive benefits.

To meet the criteria, you need to prove that your ailment is causing hindrance in major life activities. You can meet the listing for certain complications like severe mood disturbance, cognitive defects, behavioral issues, chronic heart failure symptoms, or chronic pulmonary hypertension.

Social Security Listing 3.09 states that pulmonary hypertension qualifies automatically for the disability benefits if the pressure on the pulmonary veins is greater than 40 mm Hg.

Listing 4.0 shows lengthy criteria if you want to list sleep apnea based on heart diseases. For mental disorder benefits list 12.02 discusses even strict criteria for disability benefits. To qualify, under the listing a person must suffer an intellectual mental disorder, depression, memory issues, or anxiety. Other than these, you must prove that you either have:

  • Lost the ability to comprehend things as you left with the ability to produce 15 or fewer IQ points, hallucinations, disturbed and distracted thinking. As a result, you are facing difficulties in concentrating, limiting your activities, and problems in performing daily tasks.
  • Mood swings are affecting your personality. For this reason, you start remaining under depression, reacting abruptly due to continuous anger, showing impulsive behavior towards activities. Your mental condition due to sleep apnea mood swings is getting worse day by day, which is initiating problems for you when you interact with people. In short, your personality has drifted towards negative reactions due to disturbing moods.

If you think that you can prove these causes and reactions that you may be suffering from sleep apnea, you could be able to qualify for the benefits. Through Social security disability benefits, you can receive up to $18,00 monthly. However, if you are receiving any other government-regulated disability benefits, then your monthly payments can be reduced.

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