HomeDisability InsuranceCan You Get Disability for Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Can You Get Disability for Obstructive Sleep Apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is more than just snoring or restless nights. This sleep disorder affects millions of Americans and causes potentially severe health issues, including cognitive impairments that can disrupt your daily life. For professionals, the cognitive impacts from this “invisible” disability can be especially concerning, as they can hinder your ability to excel in your career and personal endeavors.

In this blog post, we will look at the world of obstructive sleep apnea, exploring its effects on cognitive function, detailing common symptoms, and providing insights into the disability benefits available for those dealing with this condition. We will also touch on the differences between Social Security and private long-term disability insurance claims, and offer guidance on when you may want to seek legal assistance.

If you or a loved one is grappling with OSA and its cognitive challenges, this post is here to help you navigate the path towards securing the support you may need. Let’s begin by understanding exactly what obstructive sleep apnea entails.

Understanding Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a disorder characterized by recurring episodes of disrupted breathing during sleep. The most common form of the condition by far, and the one this article will primarily focus on, is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when muscles in the throat relax excessively during sleep. This causes the soft tissues at the back of the through to obstruct the airway partially or entirely. As a result, individuals with OSA experience brief but repeated pauses in their breathing, often (but not always) accompanied by loud snoring.

What makes OSA particularly concerning is its potential to go unnoticed for years. Many individuals dismiss their symptoms as typical snoring or fatigue, unaware of the underlying issue. However, OSA is far from benign; it can have a profound impact on both physical and mental health. In addition to direct sleep apnea symptoms such as headaches, irritability, and excessive sleepiness, uncontrolled sleep apnea is linked to an increased risk of conditions such as diabetes, liver problems, chronic pulmonary hypertension, and chronic heart failure.

One important aspect to understand about OSA is its effect on cognitive function. When breathing repeatedly stops during sleep, oxygen (O2) levels in the blood decrease. This oxygen deprivation can harm the brain over time, leading to cognitive impairments, such as difficulties with memory, concentration, and mood regulation.

The cognitive symptoms of OSA can extend beyond nighttime hours, affecting daily life and professional performance. Imagine struggling to concentrate during meetings, battling persistent fatigue, or feeling irritable due to disrupted sleep. These challenges can significantly impact your career and quality of life.

Other Forms of Sleep Apnea

Although less common, there are two other main forms of sleep apnea.

  • Central sleep apnea (CSA). In this condition, the part of the brain responsible for regulating breathing during sleep may fail to send the signal to inhale for several sleep cycles—in extreme cases up to two minutes.
  • Complex sleep apnea. Sometimes, receiving treatment for obstructive sleep apnea can trigger episodes of central sleep apnea. The result, called complex sleep apnea or sometimes treatment-emergent sleep apnea, is usually temporary.

The Hidden Impact on Cognitive Function

The effects of sleep apnea extend far beyond disrupted sleep and snoring. OSA’s hidden impact lies in its ability to compromise cognitive function—a reality many affected individuals might not fully grasp until they face its consequences firsthand. Examples of this include:

  • Memory Problems. One of the most noticeable cognitive effects of OSA is memory impairment. The brain’s ability to consolidate and retain information is compromised when it doesn’t receive adequate oxygen during sleep. This can result in forgetfulness, difficulty recalling details, and even struggles with retaining new information.
  • Concentration Issues. OSA can also make it challenging to stay focused on tasks, whether at work or in daily activities. Concentration lapses can lead to decreased productivity and increased frustration, impacting both professional and personal life.
  • Mood Changes. The oxygen deprivation caused by OSA can affect emotional well-being. Individuals with OSA may experience mood swings, increased irritability, and heightened feelings of anxiety or depression. These emotional fluctuations can strain relationships and hinder overall life satisfaction.
  • Professional Consequences. For professionals, these cognitive issues can be particularly concerning. Imagine trying to excel in a demanding career when memory lapses and difficulty concentrating are a daily struggle. The impacts can lead to reduced job performance, missed opportunities, and even career setbacks.

It’s crucial to understand that the cognitive challenges associated with OSA are not merely inconveniences but can have a significant and lasting effect on one’s quality of life. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of OSA is the first step toward addressing these hidden impacts.

Recognizing OSA Symptoms

Identifying obstructive sleep apnea is vital for timely intervention and support. While some individuals may dismiss their symptoms as common issues, recognizing the signs can lead to a better understanding of the condition and the potential need for disability benefits.

  1. Loud Snoring. OSA often manifests as loud and persistent snoring. While occasional snoring is fairly normal, intense and chronic snoring can be a sign of an underlying sleep disorder.
  2. Pauses in Breathing. Pauses in breathing during sleep, typically lasting for several seconds, are a hallmark symptom of OSA. These interruptions are often followed by gasping or choking as breathing resumes.
  3. Excessive Daytime Sleepiness. If you find yourself excessively tired during the day, even after what should be a full night’s sleep, it could be due to OSA-related sleep disruptions.
  4. Morning Headaches. Frequent headaches upon waking, especially accompanied by a dry mouth or sore throat, can be indicative of OSA.
  5. Difficulty Concentrating. Struggling with concentration, memory problems, or experiencing mood swings during the day may be signs of cognitive issues related to OSA.
  6. Fatigue and Irritability. OSA can lead to chronic fatigue and increased irritability, affecting both work and personal relationships.
  7. Obesity and High Blood Pressure. Individuals who are overweight or have high blood pressure are at a higher risk of OSA.

If you or someone you know experiences these symptoms, seeking a medical evaluation and diagnosis is essential. Early intervention and treatment not only improve health outcomes but can also be crucial when considering disability benefits.

Obtaining Long-Term Disability Benefits for Sleep Apnea Can Be Challenging

It should be obvious that the symptoms and potential complications of obstructive sleep apnea can be disabling, particularly for those whose work requires a high degree of mental focus and cognitive function—for example, doctors, lawyers, executives, business owners, and other highly educated professionals.

However, getting disability benefits for sleep apnea approved may be more challenging than you might think. The symptoms of sleep apnea tend to be “invisible” and difficult to prove through what an insurance company might consider objective medical evidence. Headaches, excessive fatigue, irritability, and related symptoms tend to be either self-reported or identified in clinical assessments rather than objective medical tests. This gives the insurance company more wiggle room to suggest you aren’t as disabled as you say you are.

On top of that, insurance companies often minimize or ignore the impact of cognitive and emotional symptoms when evaluating claims, even for highly educated professionals.

To increase your chances of getting your claim approved (or successfully appealed), you should consider:

  • Gathering as much medical evidence as possible, including results of sleep studies, notes from physicians, records of appointments, etc.
  • Staying up-to-date on all appointments and always following your medical team’s treatment recommendations.
  • Keeping a journal or other personal record of your daily symptoms and how they are impacting your life and ability to accomplish daily tasks.
  • Getting letters from friends and loved ones who can also talk about how your sleep apnea symptoms affect your life.
  • Working with an experienced long-term disability attorney who can help you understand what your disability policy covers, and how to maximize your chances of getting your benefits approved, including whether or not additional testing like neuropsychological evaluation should be arranged.

Disability Benefits: Social Security vs. Private Insurance

When considering disability benefits for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), it’s important to know that there are different avenues for seeking support. The primary distinctions lie between Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and private insurance benefits.

Private Insurance Benefits

  • Many professionals have private disability insurance policies through their employers or individually. These policies often cover a broader range of disabilities and may be more accessible than SSDI.
  • The criteria for private insurance benefits may vary depending on the policy, so it’s essential to review the terms and conditions of your specific plan.
  • Bryant Legal Group can provide legal assistance in navigating private insurance claims and ensuring you receive the benefits you are entitled to due to OSA-related cognitive impairments.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

  • SSDI is a federal program run by the Social Security Administration (SSA) designed to provide financial assistance to individuals with disabilities who have contributed to Social Security through payroll taxes.
  • To qualify for Social Security Disability benefits due to OSA, you must meet specific criteria, including demonstrating the severity of your condition, the impact on your ability to work, and the duration of your disability.
  • It’s important to note that SSDI has stringent eligibility criteria, and the application process can be complex and time-consuming. Further, because you need to be totally disabled from working any job in order to qualify for SSDI, sleep apnea sufferers usually only qualify if symptoms are severe.

Please note that Bryant Legal Group does not handle standalone SSDI claims. We focus our practice on private insurance plans. That being said, if you do have a private long-term disability claim and your severe sleep apnea also qualifies you for SSDI, we can help you with both.

Seeking Legal Assistance

Navigating the disability benefits application process for obstructive sleep apnea can be overwhelming, especially when dealing with cognitive impairments. Seeking legal assistance from experienced professionals can make a significant difference in your journey to securing the support you need.

Disability claims often involve extensive paperwork and complex regulations. An attorney can help you complete the necessary forms accurately and gather the required medical evidence to support your case.

Attorneys who specialize in disability law are well-versed in the intricacies of the system. They understand the specific requirements for OSA-related claims and can ensure that your case is presented effectively.

In cases where claims are denied, legal representation becomes even more crucial. An attorney can help you appeal the decision, increasing your chances of a successful outcome.

Having a legal advocate on your side can alleviate stress and uncertainty during what is often a lengthy and frustrating process. You can focus on your health and well-being while your attorney handles the legal aspects.

Bryant Legal Group Is Here for You

And if you suffer from OSA, you should know that you certainly aren’t alone. This is problem many people face. But you also aren’t alone in your fight for disability benefits for OSA. Bryant Legal Group is right here and ready to fight with you.

We’re committed to assisting individuals like you in understanding your options and ensuring you receive the support you deserve. Remember, you have the right to seek the support you need to thrive despite the challenges of OSA. Your wellbeing matters, so please don’t hesitate to reach out by calling (312) 586-9543 or contacting us online today.