What Types of Skin Infection Count as a Disability for Social Security?

Severe, recurring skin infections may qualify as a disabling skin condition.

By , J.D. · University of Missouri School of Law
Updated by Diana Chaikin, Attorney · Seattle University School of Law
Updated 10/09/2023

Chronic, severe skin infections—such as ichthyosis, bullous disease, dermatitis, psoriasis, eczema, and hidradenitis suppurativa—can significantly interfere with your activities of daily living. Painful bumps and rashes might develop on your hands or feet, making it challenging for you to walk or pick up small objects. If your skin infection keeps you from working full-time for at least a year, you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits.

How Can I Qualify for Disability Due to Skin Infections?

You can receive disability benefits in one of two ways:

  • meet the criteria of an impairment in Social Security's Blue Book, a list of conditions that the agency has determined are automatically disabling, or
  • show that you're unable to perform any full-time work based on limitations from your medically documented symptoms.

Keep in mind that, before the Social Security Administration (SSA) can find that you're disabled, the agency will need to see that you satisfy the financial eligibility requirements for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI). SSDI eligibility is based on your work history, while SSI is a needs-based program with an income and asset limit.

Getting Disability Under a Listing for Chronic Skin Conditions

Social Security now evaluates all skin conditions (except burns and genetic photosensitivity disorders) under listing 8.09, Chronic conditions of the skin or mucous membranes. This listing covers conditions such as cellulitis, bullous disease, diabetic blisters, and recurrent fungal, bacterial, or staph infections.

Satisfying the listing is less about your specific skin diagnosis than about how your condition limits your ability to move around. You can meet listing 8.09 if your medical records contain evidence of chronic skin lesions or contractures (severe scar tissue) that persist, despite medical attention, for three months. It's not enough just to have the lesions, however—you'll need to show that they cause at least one of the following functional limitations:

  • inability to use both arms and hands (upper extremities) independently
  • inability to use one upper extremity independently, with a prescribed assistive device (such as a cane) that you need the other upper extremity to use
  • inability to get up from a seated position and remain stably upright due to lesions affecting two extremities or the groin region, or
  • inability to remain stably upright while standing or walking due to lesions in both lower extremities or the groin region.

If your skin infection is caused by another disease or condition (such as diabetes), Social Security may evaluate your claim under another listing as well. For example, if your skin condition results in facial disfigurement or other physical deformities that severely affect your social functioning or mood, the agency might see if you meet one of the mental health listings. And if you don't meet the exact requirements of a listing, Social Security could find that your condition "equals" one of the listed impairments—for example, if you have lesions that "flare up" frequently but don't last for three months at a time.

Getting Disability Because Your Skin Infection Rules Out Any Work

If your skin condition doesn't meet or equal a Blue Book listing, you could still be awarded disability benefits if you can show that your condition leaves you unable to perform any full-time work. (In Social Security lingo, this is called a "medical-vocational allowance.")

In order to determine whether you can work, Social Security will review your medical records and your functional limitations to come up with a set of work-related restrictions called your residual functional capacity (RFC).

What's In Your RFC?

Your RFC contains limitations on any activities that you struggle with because of your health. For example, if diabetic blisters on the soles of your feet prevent you from standing or walking for more than 10 minutes at a time, your RFC will likely restrict you to sit-down work (at least). Or, if chronic boils on your hands prevent you from grasping objects or performing fine motor skills, your RFC will include restrictions on how long you can perform tasks requiring fine manipulation.

How Does Social Security Use Your RFC?

Social Security will look at your work history and decide whether you're capable of doing your past jobs given the restrictions in your current RFC. If you can't return to your old work, the agency will see whether any other jobs exist that you can do with your RFC.

For most disability claimants younger than 50, this means that you'll need to show that you can't perform the easiest, sedentary jobs. Claimants 50 years of age or older might be able to qualify for benefits even if they can do easier work, under a special set of circumstances called the medical-vocational grid rules.

Medical Evidence You Need to Show That Your Skin Condition Is Disabling

Proving that your skin condition is serious enough to meet a listing or keep you from working can be challenging. You'll have your best chances at having your disability claim approved if you can provide Social Security with the following medical documents:

  • laboratory findings (such as biopsy results) that confirm your diagnosis
  • progress notes from your doctor discussing the prognosis (expected outcome) of your condition, when it started, and how long any flare-ups last
  • pictures showing the location, size, number, and appearance of any skin lesions you have
  • lists of prescription medications (like antibiotics) that you're taking, along with how well you're responding to the treatment, including any side effects, and
  • if possible, a medical source statement from your treating physician or dermatologist.

Social Security will expect to see that you're attending regular appointments with your doctors and following all prescribed treatment. If your skin infection persists only because you are not taking prescribed antibiotics, you won't be found disabled.

Getting Legal Help With Your Disability Case

If you're not sure whether you have the right evidence to establish disability due to skin infections (or any chronic dermatological condition), consider getting help from an experienced disability attorney. Your lawyer can give you an honest assessment of your claim's strengths and weaknesses, help fill in any gaps in medical records, and represent you at a disability hearing in front of an administrative law judge.

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