Glaucoma and Qualifying for Social Security Disability Benefits
Can I get disability benefits if I am suffering from the effects of Glaucoma?
Author: Attorney Lloyd Bemis
Glaucoma is part of a group of eye conditions that damage the optic nerve. A leading cause of blindness in people over the age of 60, glaucoma can occur at any age, even infants, but is most common in older adults. Some forms of glaucoma have no early symptoms and are not noticed until the condition has progressed to an advanced stage.
The optic nerve connects the eye to the brain through impulses formed by the retina, the nerve layer that lines the back of the eye, senses light, and creates impulses.
When these impulses reach the brain, they are interpreted as images. When glaucoma occurs, the fluid that flows throughout the inside of the eye (known as aqueous humor) builds up. This fluid normally drains out through tissue called the trabecular meshwork, but when overproduced or not draining properly, the fluid cannot flow out at a normal rate and eye pressure increases, damaging the optic nerve.
Contact a Social Security disability attorney at 512-454-4000 for a free consultation and see if you can get disability benefits while suffering from the effects of Glaucoma. If you have been denied disability don’t give up!
What causes this fluid buildup is unknown, but some forms of glaucoma can be inherited.
Other but less common causes of glaucoma include an injury to the eye, infection, or blocked blood vessels within the eye. Glaucoma usually affects both eyes, but one eye may be worse than the other.
There are two main types of glaucoma: open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma or acute glaucoma.
In open-angle glaucoma the angle where the iris meets the cornea is normal, but the eye’s drainage canals become blocked and fluid fails to flow as it should, leading to increased internal eye pressure and optic nerve damage. This is the most common type of glaucoma, affecting approximately four million Americans, many of whom are unaware they have the condition.
When acute angle glaucoma occurs, eye fluid doesn’t drain properly because the space between the iris and cornea is too narrow, causing a rapid buildup of pressure inside the eye.
This type of glaucoma is less common and sometimes linked to farsightedness and cataracts.
Sometimes eye pressure may be within normal range even when the optic nerve is damaged and blind spots in a person’s vision can occur.
This type is known as normal tension glaucoma.
Open-angle glaucoma is often called the “Thief of Vision” because symptoms usually do not appear until an advanced stage of the condition.
The first sign is usually a loss of peripheral vision (being able to see all around you without turning your head). Because these symptoms occur slowly, an individual may not notice them until the loss of vision is significant.
In contrast, symptoms of acute-closure glaucoma strike suddenly and damage to the optic nerve happens quickly:
- Throbbing eye pain
- Severe headache
- Nausea and vomiting
- Blurred vision and/or vision loss
- Eye redness
- Seeing halos around light
- Eye with a hazy appearance
To diagnose glaucoma, an ophthalmologist will test your vision and take photos of the optic nerve.
They will also perform a visual field test (to test peripheral vision) and tonometry, a procedure to determine fluid pressure inside the eye.
Treatment focuses on preventing and slowing vision loss and usually employs a combination of eye drops, laser surgery and microsurgery.
- Eye drops and oral medications can slow the creation of fluid inside the eye and improve drainage
- Laser surgery can increase the flow of fluid from the eye (if open-angle glaucoma) or stop fluid blockage (if angle-closure glaucoma)
- Microsurgery can create a channel to drain fluid and reduce eye pressure
Glaucoma cannot be prevented, but early detection can prevent vision loss.
Since glaucoma runs in families, it’s important to check your family history and have regular eye exams. Following your doctor’s treatment plan and exercising can lower eye pressure.
Qualifying for Social Security Disability for Glaucoma
Most people with glaucoma who apply for Social Security Disability income have lost significant peripheral vision.
The Social Security Administration acknowledges that when central visual acuity and/or peripheral vision are reduced to a certain level, it is difficult for an individual to work, but also has specific standards for measuring vision loss.
There are three listings under which an individual with glaucoma could be approved for benefits.
- 2.02 Loss of Central Visual Acuity. (clearness and clarity). The remaining vision in your better eye after best correction must be 20/200 or less.
- 2.04 Loss of visual efficiency (a combination of visual acuity and peripheral vision expressed as a percentage). Visual acuity efficiency is a percentage that corresponds to the best-corrected central visual acuity for distance in your better eye. You must have a visual efficiency percentage of 20 or less after best correction; or a visual impairment value of 1.00 or greater after best correction
- 2.03 Contraction of visual field in the better eye (loss of peripheral vision).
You must have test results consistent with one of the following:
- a visual field efficiency of 20% or less; or
- the widest diameter of the visual field must be no more than 20 degrees from the point of fixation; or
- a mean deviation of -22 or worse, measured by a visual field test.
You won’t qualify for disability benefits if your peripheral vision in one eye is good.
If you have glaucoma, yet your disability does not match Social Security’s listing, you may still be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits if you have another impairment; for example, high blood pressure or diabetes.
Applicants often have more than one illness or injury that prevents them from working full time. By itself one disorder may not meet the requirements of an impairment as stated in Social Security’s Blue Book. However, if an applicant has multiple medical conditions, Social Security must consider how those health issues, combined together, limit an applicant’s ability to hold a job and perform necessary daily tasks. Social Security will also evaluate how your limitations affect your ability to work (called a medical-vocational assessment), taking into account whether or not you are able to drive, your age, and level of education.
If you have glaucoma and are unable to work because of a loss of vision, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits.
Disability benefits are an important source of income for those who are unable to work. If you are not able to work due to accident or illness, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability or Long Term Disability benefits. If you have applied for benefits and been denied, contact the attorneys at Bemis, Roach and Reed for a free consultation. Call 512-454-4000 and get help NOW.
Author: Attorney Lloyd Bemis has been practicing law for over 35 years. He is Superlawyers rated by Thomson Reuters and is Top AV Preeminent® and Client Champion Gold rated by Martindale Hubbell. Through his extensive litigation Mr. Bemis obtained dual board certifications from the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Lloyd is admitted to practice in the United States District Court – all Texas Districts and has argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit. Mr. Bemis is a member of the Travis County Bar Association. He has been active in the American Association for Justice and is a past Director of the Capital Area Trial Lawyers Association. Mr. Bemis and all the members of Bemis, Roach & Reed have been active participants in the Travis County Lawyer referral service.
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