Most Americans are familiar with different forms of lung disease, such as lung cancer, asthma, or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Yet many of us aren’t aware of a relatively rare, yet often terminal, disease: pulmonary fibrosis.
Although it is difficult to definitively state the number of people with pulmonary fibrosis in the United States, one study estimated that there are between 132,000 and 200,000 people living with this condition. A separate study found that there are approximately 50,000 new cases of pulmonary fibrosis diagnosed each year — and as many as 40,000 Americans die from this disease annually. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), the average life expectancy of a person diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis is three to five years after diagnosis.
Pulmonary fibrosis can be incredibly scary, particularly for those who still need to work in order to provide for themselves and their families. A long-term disability insurance policy may help to bridge the gap, offering benefits for individuals with pulmonary fibrosis who are unable to work. A Cherry Hill disability benefits attorney can help you assemble the necessary documentation to put together a strong claim for benefits.
What Is Pulmonary Fibrosis?
Pulmonary fibrosis is a lung disease characterized by damaged and scarred lung tissue and shortness of breath. Specifically, the tissue around and between the air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs becomes scarred and thickened, making it harder for oxygen to pass into the bloodstream. There is no cure for pulmonary fibrosis, although medications and therapies can ease symptoms and improve quality of life.
There are a number of signs and symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis, including:
- Shortness of breath
- A dry cough
- Unexplained weight loss
- Aching muscles and joints
- Widening and rounding of the tips of the fingers and toes.
The course of the disease is unique for each person. Some people experience a rapid worsening of their symptoms, known as acute exacerbation, such as severe shortness of breath, that may last for several days to weeks. People who have acute exacerbations may be placed on a mechanical ventilator or be prescribed medications to treat these symptoms.
In most cases of pulmonary fibrosis, doctors cannot isolate a cause. However, there are many potential factors that can cause damage to lung tissue, particularly with long-term exposure. These include:
- Long-term exposure to occupational and environmental toxins, such as:
- Silica dust
- Asbestos fibers
- Hard metal dusts
- Grain dust
- Coal dust
- Bird and animal droppings
- Radiation treatments for lung or breast cancer
- Medications, such as
- Chemotherapy drugs
- Anti-inflammatory drugs
- Some antibiotics
- Certain heart medications
- Medical conditions, including
- Mixed connective tissue disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Systemic lupus erythematosus
While there are many potential contributing factors to pulmonary factors, in most cases, the exact cause is never determined. This is known as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
Pulmonary fibrosis is diagnosed through a combination of imaging tests, such as x-rays and CT scans, lung function tests, and tissue biopsies. While the course of the disease cannot be reversed or stopped, some treatments may improve symptoms or slow its progression. This may include medication, oxygen therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation, and a lung transplant.
Qualifying for Long-Term Disability Benefits with Pulmonary Fibrosis
Pulmonary fibrosis is a progressive disease that typically causes serious, debilitating symptoms. While each individual with pulmonary fibrosis will have a unique experience, it is considered a terminal condition. Given the severity of this disease and the associated symptoms, if you have pulmonary fibrosis, you may qualify for long-term disability (LTD) benefits.
LTD benefits are a monetary payment offered through an insurance policy. This type of coverage is available for individuals who are unable to work for a prolonged period of time due to a disability. There is typically a waiting period after you become disabled before your LTD benefits will start.
Each LTD benefit policy is different, so you will need to review the terms of your insurance policy for any limits or exclusions. To be eligible for benefits, you will be required to prove that you are disabled as defined by the policy. Generally, this will require proving (1) that you have pulmonary fibrosis and (2) that your diagnosis prevents you from working.
First, you will need to provide evidence that you have been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis. Records of imaging tests, lung function tests, and tissue biopsies, along with notes from treating physicians, will typically be sufficient to demonstrate that you have this condition.
Second, you must show that your pulmonary fibrosis affects your ability to work. Although this disease can affect people in a number of ways, the important thing is to link how your specific symptoms impact your job performance.
For example, if you are frequently wracked with dry, hacking coughs that leave you exhausted and depleted, it may be difficult or even impossible for you to concentrate on your job. If you are increasingly short of breath, you may not be able to perform a physical job — even one as simple as standing behind a counter as a clerk or cashier. Clubbing (widening and rounding) of your fingertips may make it challenging to type or otherwise use a computer or other device.
Treatments for pulmonary fibrosis often have side effects that can limit your ability to work. Anti-fibrotic drugs, a common therapy, may cause sensitivity to light and diarrhea. Medicines to treat cough, like hydrocodone-based cough syrup, can lead to drowsiness, dizziness, coordination issues, vomiting, headache, and confusion.
To bolster the likelihood of a successful long-term disability benefits claim, it is important to document both your diagnosis and how it limits your ability to work. Ideally, your treating physician should also submit an explanation of how your pulmonary fibrosis diagnosis affects your daily life, including your job performance.
How a Cherry Hill Disability Benefits Attorney Can Help
Pulmonary fibrosis is an incredibly serious disease that has no cure. A person diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis is often unable to work due to a number of severe symptoms, such as shortness of breath, fatigue, and complications due to medications. If you have been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, you may be eligible for long-term disability benefits.
The disability benefits attorneys of Bross & Frankel are highly skilled at working with clients who have been diagnosed with a range of conditions, helping them obtain the benefits that they need at an incredibly difficult time. With more than 20 years of experience, we understand how the system works — and will put our knowledge to work for you. To schedule a free review of your disability benefits claims, contact our office today at 856-795-8800, or reach out online.