What is COPD?
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, abbreviated as COPD, is a progressive and chronic lung disease that causes difficulties in breathing properly. Smoking may be the main biological cause; however, there are several biological causes which contribute to its development. In individuals with COPD, there is an ongoing chronic inflammation of the lung tissue and airways. The inflammation causes the airways to be narrowed and obstructed. The inflammation also causes destruction of the lung tissue, which reduces the elasticity of the lungs. Additionally, certain genetic factors can also increase the susceptibility of a person to developing COPD. Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency affects the production of a protein which protects the lungs from damage caused by enzymes released during inflammation. Oxidative stress can also damage the lung tissue in COPD. This occurs when there is an imbalance between the production of reactive oxygen species and the body’s ability to neutralize them with antioxidants. Airway remodeling is also a significant factor in COPD. In airway remodeling, structural changes occur including thickening of the airway walls, increased production of mucus, and narrowing of the airways, which further obstructs airflow and causes breathing difficulties. The excessive production of mucus is especially characteristic of COPD. The mucus is stickier and thicker than normal, which makes it difficult to clear from the lungs. The accumulation of mucus further obstructs the airways and makes it difficult to breathe.
How is COPD diagnosed?
A COPD diagnosis typically first begins with a physical examination. Your doctor will listen to your lungs with a stethoscope for any abnormal sounds such as wheezing and crackling. You may undergo spirometry testing to assess your lung function. This will determine the amount of air you can inhale and exhale, and how quickly you can do it. To perform the test, you will inhale and then exhale forcefully into a device called a spirometer. This will determine the level of airflow limitation you are experiencing.
Your doctor may also order imaging tests, such as chest X-rays or CT scans, to make an assessment of the condition of your lungs. You may also undergo an arterial blood gas test to measure the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood, and assess the severity of your COPD.
How is COPD treated?
COPD is a chronic condition that requires long term treatment. There is currently no cure for COPD. However, there are treatment options available to manage symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.
Bronchodilators may be prescribed for people with COPD to help relax the muscles around the airways. This allows the airways to open up and breathe more easily. Some bronchodilators are short acting and only used as needed. Other bronchodilators are long acting and taken regularly. Some examples of bronchodilators include beta-antagonists and anticholinergics. Additionally, some inhalers are prescribed which are a combination of bronchodilators and corticosteroids. These provide both bronchodilation and anti inflammatory effects. For those with low oxygen levels, supplemental oxygen may be prescribed to help with shortness of breath.
Some individuals with COPD undergo pulmonary rehabilitation. This program includes exercise training, education, breathing exercises, and nutritional counseling. In severe cases of COPD, surgical intervention may be required. The person may undergo lung volume reduction surgery, or in very severe cases, lung transplantation.
What limitations might a person with COPD have?
The primary symptom that people with COPD experience is shortness of breath. As the airway and lung tissue is affected, the result is a limitation in airflow, which can cause shortness of breath. Shortness of breath can especially occur during physical exertion. Activities such as walking, climbing stairs, or carrying objects can become difficult for individuals with COPD. COPD can also cause feelings of constant tiredness and fatigue, which can make it difficult to have energy to perform normal activities. This is due to the amount of effort that is needed to be able to breathe normally. Walking long distances or doing activities that require physical effort on a sustained basis may be impossible for someone with COPD. Speaking and projecting one’s voice can be challenging if the individual is not able to adequately take deep breaths and expand the lungs. Additionally, people with COPD are at an increased risk of respiratory infections such as pneumonia.
Social Security Disability Benefits for COPD
If you are suffering from COPD symptoms and are unable to perform normal work activities as a result of your condition, you may be eligible to receive Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. To be eligible for the Social Security Disability program, your condition must last or be expected to last for at least one year or result in death. You must have stopped working or be working below substantial gainful activity levels, which is defined by Social Security as less than $1350 in pre-tax earnings per month. Additionally, you must have sufficient work credits to qualify for the program. Typically that means having worked and paid taxes into Social Security on your earnings for at least five of the past ten years.
Once Social Security has confirmed that you are no longer working or engaging in substantial gainful activity, it will assess the severity of your condition. This is determined by review of your medical records, including physical exams, diagnostic testing, and prescribed medications. It is important to note that if your doctor has told you to stop smoking, it is imperative to follow your doctor’s instructions as it can significantly harm your disability case if you do not do so.
After Social Security has determined that you have a severe impairment, it will determine your residual functional capacity. This is your ability to perform certain work related activities such as sit, stand, lift, carry, handle objects, and maintain pace within normal break periods. This will also include your ability to tolerate exposure to certain environments such as those with pulmonary irritants. Once Social Security has determined your residual functional capacity, it will assess whether you can return to the work you have done within the past fifteen years. If you are unable to return to your past work, and Social Security determines that there is no other work that you can do, you will be approved for disability.
If you are struggling with COPD and have not been able to continue working, our legal team at LaBovick Law Group is ready to help you get the disability benefits you need. Give us a call today at (561) 625-8400.