Eczema (EGG-zuh-muh) is a medical term that describes inflammation of the skin. Eczema is common—affecting more than 31 million Americans—and is usually treated successfully with topical ointment.
But if your eczema causes recurrent lesions (small, round, itchy bumps on the skin) and doesn't respond to treatment, you might have trouble completing your activities of daily living or handling a full-time job. Severe, extensive eczema that keeps you out of work for at least 12 months may qualify you for Social Security disability benefits.
Eczema (also known as atopic dermatitis) causes the skin to develop irritated patches, which can itch and sometimes be painful. Eczema can occur anywhere, but is most common on the hands, feet, face, and back of the knees.
Eczema symptoms can fluctuate during different periods. Periods when symptoms are worse are called flare-ups. The most common symptoms include:
In severe cases, eczema symptoms can be constant and difficult to control, affecting your quality of life. Itchy and painful sensations can lead to sleep deprivation and difficulty concentrating on work and can keep you from participating in many routine activities.
Eczema doesn't have a cure yet, but most people manage their symptoms with medication and by avoiding things that irritate their skin. Doctors often recommend conservative methods at first, such as keeping your nails short and moisturizing regularly, but if those treatments aren't effective, corticosteroid tablets or gels are usually prescribed.
Listed impairments are conditions that the Social Security Administration (SSA) considers severe enough to qualify a disability applicant for benefits automatically. If your medical record contains evidence that meets the requirements of a listing, you'll qualify for benefits without needing to show that you're unable to perform any job.
Social Security has a listing for chronic skin conditions, listing 8.09. If you have a diagnosis of eczema (atopic dermatitis or another kind of dermatitis) that has caused skin lesions that have lasted for at least three months and didn't respond to prescribed treatment, you could get benefits under this listing if you have serious difficulty walking, using your hands and arms, or standing from a seated position and remaining standing.
Here are some examples of lesions that could qualify for benefits under this listing:
Eczema is a common condition, and for most people, it's not often severe enough to meet the listing criteria above. But you can still qualify for disability if eczema affects your daily functioning enough to keep you from working. To determine whether you can work at any job, Social Security will need to assess your residual functional capacity (RFC).
Your RFC is a set of restrictions describing how much you're able to do in a work setting despite your health conditions. In order to determine your RFC, Social Security will carefully examine your medical records, doctor's opinions, and functional limitations.
For example, eczema on both soles of your feet, the back of your knees, or your groin might make it difficult for you to walk or stand for long periods of time. In this case, your RFC might restrict you from performing jobs that involve being on your feet all day or for several hours per day.
If you have eczema on your hands, your RFC may restrict you from jobs that require repetitive use of your hands, like a desk job with a lot of typing or working on an assembly line.
The more restrictions listed in your RFC assessment, the fewer jobs you can perform. This increases your chances of being approved for disability. And Social Security is required to consider all your impairments combined when determining your RFC, so if you have other medical conditions in addition to eczema that are keeping you from working, let the agency know.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are two separate and distinct disability programs that have different eligibility criteria. While both SSDI and SSI use the same definition of disability, you'll need to meet certain legal and financial requirements for each program before you can receive benefits.
SSDI is available to applicants who have worked for approximately ten years before their condition began. The agency will look closely at your work history to determine if you have enough work credits to insure you for this program.
SSI is for people with limited income and less than $2,000 in assets ($3,000 for a couple), regardless of work history.
For more details, see our article on the difference between SSDI and SSI.
There are four ways you can file your application for Social Security benefits:
If you have more questions about your disability application you can go to our resources page which has info on how to apply for Social Security disability benefits.
Updated October 10, 2023