Can You Get Disability for Sarcoidosis?

If you have serious trouble with your lungs, eyes, or skin from sarcoidosis, you may be able to get disability benefits.

Updated by Diana Chaikin, Attorney
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Sarcoidosis (sar-koy-DOH-sis) is a condition that develops when small groups of cells form swollen lumps, called granulomas, in your organs. Sarcoidosis can occur in any organ, but most commonly affects the lungs and skin.

Some people with sarcoidosis have only mild symptoms (or no symptoms at all). In these cases, the condition can go away on its own without treatment. But other people have severe symptoms that require medications or even an organ transplant. If symptoms from your sarcoidosis interfere with your ability to work and perform your daily routine, you might qualify for disability benefits.

What Are the Symptoms of Sarcoidosis?

The exact symptoms of sarcoidosis will depend on which organ is affected, but there are some general symptoms that can suggest to your doctor that you might have sarcoidosis, such as fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, weight loss, and joint pain. Below are examples of symptoms that are specific to frequently affected organs.

Lung symptoms. The lungs are the organ most commonly affected by sarcoidosis. Symptoms include:

  • persistent dry cough
  • shortness of breath
  • wheezing, and
  • chest pain.

Skin symptoms. Your skin is your body's largest organ. Sarcoidosis can cause the following symptoms:

  • rashes or red and tender lumps
  • facial sores
  • discoloration in your nose, cheeks, lips, and ears, and
  • growths under your skin, especially around scars.

Eye symptoms. When sarcoidosis affects the eyes, symptoms can include:

  • blurred vision
  • eye pain
  • burning, itching, or dry eyes, and
  • sensitivity to light.

Heart symptoms. Also known as "cardiac sarcoidosis," common signs can include:

  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath,
  • fainting ("syncope"), and
  • irregular, rapid, or fluttering heartbeats.

How Can I Get Disability Benefits for Sarcoidosis?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes that the symptoms of sarcoidosis can be potentially disabling. But because not everybody with sarcoidosis experiences symptoms, simply having a diagnosis isn't enough. You'll have to provide medical evidence showing that your sarcoidosis symptoms have interfered significantly with your activities of daily living and prevented you from working full-time for at least a year.

Qualifying for Disability Based on the Listing of Impairments

Depending on which organ is affected by sarcoidosis, you might qualify as disabled under Social Security's listing of impairments (the "Blue Book"). Blue Book impairments are conditions that the SSA considers especially serious. If your medical record contains certain specific criteria described in the Blue Book, the agency can find that you're disabled without having to determine that you can't do any work.

Sarcoidosis doesn't have its own disability listing, but if your symptoms are severe enough, the SSA will evaluate your disability claim under the listing for the organ affected with sarcoidosis. Below are some examples of listings that people with sarcoidosis might meet or equal that can qualify them for disability benefits.

Qualifying for Disability Based on Reduced Functional Capacity

Even if you don't qualify for disability based on any of the Blue Book listings, Social Security can still find you disabled if your sarcoidosis symptoms prevent you from engaging in substantial gainful activity. The process of determining what you can and can't do in a work environment is called assessing your residual functional capacity (RFC).

What Is an RFC?

Your RFC is a few sentences describing your maximum physical and mental capabilities. If you have sarcoidosis, your RFC will likely contain limitations on how long you can sit, stand, and walk, as well as how much weight you can lift and carry. The SSA refers to these physical restrictions as your "exertional level."

Depending on what organs are affected by your sarcoidosis, your RFC might also contain certain "non-exertional" restrictions, limiting the types of environments you're able to work in or the kinds of tools you can use.

For example, if your sarcoidosis is in your lungs, the SSA might find that you're unable to work in a setting where you'd be exposed to dust or fumes, such as a sawmill. If your eyes are affected, your RFC might contain restrictions on working in low light or operating hazardous machinery. Or, if you develop skin lesions as a result of sarcoidosis, your RFC might limit working in environments where your skin could be exposed to dangerous chemicals.

How Will Social Security Use Your RFC?

The SSA will look at your RFC to determine if your current restrictions eliminate your ability to do all the jobs you've done in the past.

Depending on your age, education, and skills, you'll also likely have to show that you can't do the easiest, least demanding jobs. For example, if you need to lie down frequently throughout the day to relieve chest pain from cardiac sarcoidosis, there are few (if any) jobs that you'd be able to perform, and you'd likely be found disabled.

For more information, see our articles on RFC and medical-vocational allowances.

Updated July 6, 2022

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