An allergy is an overreaction by the body's immune system to generally harmless substances in the environment. Allergies are most often caused by foods, insect stings, medications, and particles in the air, such as pollen.
Most common allergies are mild and include reactions like red, itchy eyes, a runny nose, or hives. However, allergies can produce more extreme reactions, including difficulty breathing, prolonged skin irritations, and in the most extreme cases, anaphylaxis.
Severe allergies can be considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA defines disability as an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, such as breathing or eating, or major bodily functions, such as breathing or digesting food. This means that severe respiratory and food allergies can qualify for protections under the ADA.
But the ADA is only designed to protect your rights as a disabled person. The law doesn't provide disability benefits, and Social Security doesn't include allergies in its list of impairments that are severe enough to qualify for disability benefits (called the Blue Book). But, just because Social Security doesn't have a listing for allergies doesn't mean you can't get disability benefits.
As with other impairments, Social Security provides two ways to qualify for Social Security disability for allergies. You must either:
Meeting a listing. If your allergies have caused a chronic-related condition that's included in Social Security's disability listings, and your problem meets the requirements of the listing, you'll medically qualify for disability benefits. Two common, chronic, allergy-related conditions that Social Security has included in the list of impairments are:
Unable to work safely. If you can show that you need to work in a "highly restrictive environment" to prevent the possibility of anaphylaxis (a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction), Social Security might approve your disability benefits, because not all work can be done in that kind of environment.
We'll discuss these two methods of qualifying for Social Security disability benefits below.
The two most common systems that severe allergies affect are your respiratory system, by making asthma worse, and your skin, by causing contact dermatitis.
We discuss the disability listings for these conditions briefly below since they're the most likely to apply to allergy sufferers. But you'll want to assess your individual impairments carefully to determine if you might meet another disability listing.
Allergies can often cause asthma to become worse. And asthma attacks caused by allergies that occur frequently and require hospitalization can meet the requirements of the disability listing for asthma. To meet the asthma listing, you need to have severe asthma attacks at least every other month, or six times per year.
Allergies can also cause eczema or dermatitis, an inflammatory skin rash. "Allergic contact dermatitis" is a disorder triggered by previous exposure to a particular substance, including various chemicals found in soaps, shampoos, and cosmetics, or an antigen like poison oak.
To qualify for disability under the disability listing for dermatitis, your allergy must cause skin irritations that last at least three months per episode, despite medical treatment. Your skin irritations must be extensive and must restrict movement, and the dermatitis must have been going on for a year or more.
If Social Security doesn't find that your allergy-related conditions meet the qualifications of one of the Blue Book listings, you could still qualify for Social Security disability benefits. But you'd need to prove that you can't work because of the limitations caused by your allergy.
The greatest limitations caused by allergies are environmental restrictions. For instance, if you have a severe latex allergy, you might be restricted from working around latex-containing products, including:
If you suffer from allergies that result in dermatitis or asthma (but don't meet a listing), the physical limitations your allergy causes might still prevent you from returning to work.
If you suffer from food allergies, you might have a tougher time proving that you can't work due to your allergies. It's more difficult because, generally, you'll have a serious allergic reaction to a food only if you eat it.
For instance, even if you have a severe peanut allergy, you're not likely to suffer a severe reaction by simply smelling peanuts. So a peanut allergy won't prevent you from working in a job where you may occasionally smell peanuts.
But working in an environment that creates peanut dust or uses peanut products (like lubricants made with peanut oil) could put you at risk of accidental ingestion and severe allergic reaction. If your food allergy causes you to have strict environmental restrictions, that can limit the kinds of jobs you can do.
If you suffer from severe allergies and need a very restrictive environment to function at a level that allows you to complete a job successfully, Social Security must take that into account. Such restrictions will be included in the residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment that lays out your limitations.
To prove you can't work because of your allergies, your medical records should include documentation of the following:
Your personal history regarding allergies and your ability to function outside of a highly controlled area are critical in showing how much your allergies affect your life and your ability to work.
Learn more about how Social Security uses your RFC to decide if you're disabled.
If you have a disability that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) rates at 10% disabled or more, and you can show that your condition is service-connected, you'll qualify for VA disability compensation. In this way, VA benefits are different from Social Security disability benefits, where there are no percentages of disability. Under Social Security rules, you're either disabled or you're not.
Also unlike the Social Security Administration, the Veterans Administration (VA) does officially recognize certain allergies as disabilities. The VA has disability ratings for two types of allergies:
If you have a severe allergy that causes anaphylaxis with recurrent swelling under the skin around your eyes, lips, and/or throat (angioedema), the VA will generally grant an initial rating of up to 40% disabled (under Diagnostic Code 7118).
With nasal allergies, the VA will give you a 10% disability rating when rhinitis causes both your nasal passages to be at least 50% obstructed or one nasal passage to be blocked entirely. Your disability rating will jump to 30% if polyps are also present. (For more information, see VA diagnostic code 6522.)
Updated September 30, 2022