Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a hereditary disease that causes excessive, thick mucus in the lungs and pancreas. The mucus in the lungs increases the chances of lung infections and causes breathing difficulties, which cause some young adults with cystic fibrosis to die of pulmonary or heart failure.
Symptoms of cystic fibrosis in the lungs include productive coughing, high blood pressure, and pulmonary hypertension. In addition, excessive mucus in the digestive tract can prevent CF patients from getting proper nutrition from their food, and they also lose minerals through their sweat. Sleep disorders, including sleep apnea, have also been shown to be common in patients with cystic fibrosis, which can affect their health negatively.
As patients with CF become young adults, many have increased lung infections or difficulties breathing. The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes the seriousness of this condition and will automatically approve disability benefits for cystic fibrosis sufferers who have frequent lung infections or poor lung function.
To qualify for automatic approval of benefits (under the SSA's listing 3.04 for cystic fibrosis), you must have one of the following:
Additionally, CF patients with advanced lung disease may ultimately require lung transplantation. The SSA automatically finds individuals who have a lung transplant disabled for at least three years from the date of the transplant surgery.
If your medical condition doesn't meet one of the above requirements, you may still be unable to work because of restrictions on your activities. If your doctor has said that you need to take frequent rest breaks; not lift more than a certain amount of weight; avoid temperature extremes, dust, and fumes; or need to have daily or weekly percussion therapy or nebulization, this limits the types of jobs you can do. The SSA will put all of your restrictions into a residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment and then evaluate whether there is any work you can be expected to do with your limitations. If there isn't, the SSA will award you disability benefits. Learn more about how the SSA decides when you can't work due to doctor's restrictions.
The main way that Social Security evaluates your claim is based on your medical evidence—this includes doctors' and hospital records and laboratory tests. It could also include a questionnaire completed by your doctor or even the results of an independent examination by a doctor of Social Security's choosing.
For claims involving cystic fibrosis, Social Security will look for:
Social Security administers two disability programs: SSDI and SSI. To be eligible for SSDI benefits, you must have worked a certain number of years, depending on your age, and paid into the Social Security system. Learn more about SSDI eligibility.
For SSI benefits, you must not have too much income or assets (and the SSA will count part of your family's income and assets if you live at home). Learn more about SSI eligibility.
In addition, to qualify for disability benefits, you can't be earning more than approximately $1,500 per month from work activity.
You can apply for Social Security disability in person at your local SSA office (after the COVID-19 pandemic ends), by calling Social Security at 800-772-1213, or online at www.ssa.gov. To complete the disability application, you'll need detailed information, including the contact information and dates of treatment for all of your medical providers, the dates of any medical tests, and the names, addresses, and dates of employment for all of your employers in the last 15 years.
For more information, see our article on applying for Social Security disability benefits.
If you'd like help with your application, think about working with a legal professional. Click for a free case evaluation with an SSDI expert to determine whether your cystic fibrosis is severe enough to qualify for benefits.
Updated January 4, 2023