Chemical sensitivity is an autoimmune disorder that, if severe enough, may prevent a person from working. Patients who are unable to work due to chemical sensitivity or the resulting symptoms may qualify for long-term disability (LTD) benefits. The insurance carrier will review their claim to see if the claimant meets the definition of disability as defined by their disability insurance policy.
What is Chemical Sensitivity?
Chemical sensitivity is a type of autoimmune disorder. High levels of chemicals can cause reactions in any person, but individuals with chemical sensitivity experience symptoms with low levels of chemicals that can be found in almost any environment. Not everyone suffering from chemical sensitivity reacts to the same chemicals or experiences the same symptoms. The most common reaction is to chemical fragrances, which are found in everything from perfume to cleaning products, followed by cigarette smoke, car exhaust, and disinfectants. People with chronic reactions in multiple organ systems to multiple chemicals are said to have multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), the most severe form of chemical sensitivity. It is estimated that close to 12% of the population suffers from MCS.
Symptoms can range from mild to life-threatening and can affect one or more organs. Symptoms of chemical sensitivity include:
- Headaches and migraines;
- Memory loss and difficulty concentrating;
- Joint pain;
- Skin disorders like rashes and eczema;
- Shortness of breath;
- Asthma; and
Some people with this disorder experience only mild symptoms like a cough or headache when exposed to obvious triggers like cleaning products. Others experience severe symptoms like anaphylaxis when exposed to low levels of chemicals that most people would not even notice. Even dried paint can cause symptoms in those experiencing severe forms of chemical sensitivity.
While people can develop chemical sensitivities from low-level exposures, people who have been exposed to high levels of toxic chemicals are especially at risk. Firefighters, rescue workers, construction workers, miners, and industrial workers are exposed to the levels of chemicals that can cause future problems.
Diagnosing Chemical Sensitivity
Many doctors are unfamiliar with chemical sensitivities and how they can affect patients. Symptoms can also look like indications of other disorders. This causes people who are seeking treatment to have a difficult time getting diagnosed.
There is no definitive diagnostic test that is used to diagnose chemical sensitivities. Instead, doctors must rely on patient history and clinical assessment of patient symptoms. When exposed to the chemical in question, patients are assessed in their physical and psychological reactions. Documenting symptoms such as rashes, swelling of the lymph nodes, throat swelling, shortness of breath, heart rate, and blood pressure are key to diagnosing this invisible illness.
Other diagnostic tests include:
- Neuropsychological evaluations;
- SPECT brain scans and
- Blood tests.
Together with the clinical assessment, they can paint a clearer picture that the patient is experiencing physical symptoms due to exposure.
Treating Chemical Sensitivity
The main treatment for chemical sensitivity is reducing exposure. The home should be cleared of any chemicals or products that cause a reaction. Some patients find relief by wearing masks or gloves in public, where exposure can be difficult to prevent. Seeking accommodation in the workplace can keep reactants like perfume or scented air fresheners away from the employee. Increasing ventilation and using air filters can also help.
Medication to relieve symptoms is a secondary treatment and depends on which symptoms the patient experiences. Some choices include topical hydrocortisone cream for rashes or inhalers for asthma. As patients with MCD can have unpredictable reactions, all medication should be carefully considered by an experienced physician before beginning treatment.
Disability Evaluation of Chemical Sensitivity
When you apply for long-term disability benefits, the insurer evaluates your claim to determine whether you qualify as disabled under the terms of your specific plan. People experiencing mild symptoms will probably not be considered disabled, but those with more severe symptoms can fit the disability requirements under many policies.
Understanding the Definition of Disability
Most long-term disability plans classify an individual as disabled if they have a medical condition that results in an inability to perform their job duties for the first two years of the policy. After that, the person must be incapable of executing the duties of any other job (as long as the claimant is reasonably suited for the job and the pay is within a certain range determined by the policy.) However, each plan has its unique characteristics, so it’s crucial to meticulously examine your policy to determine if you meet the criteria.
Evaluating Disability for People with Chemical Sensitivity
People seeking benefits for their chemical sensitivity or MCS must prove that the condition is ongoing and prevents them from working or engaging in ordinary life activities. It must be almost impossible to prevent the reaction to prove disability status. If it is a milder case where simply avoiding triggers is possible, it is more likely that the insurance company will push for workplace accommodations instead.
Information the Insurance Company Needs to Decide Your Claim
The primary qualifier for patients seeking disability benefits will be the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) assessment, which indicates how chemical sensitivities affect and limit their life activities. Medical records documenting the patient’s condition and history are also important in determining if they meet disability definitions.
You must inform your insurance company about all of the treatment you have received for your chemical sensitivity, even if the treatment occurred before your formal diagnosis. You should also obtain and deliver all of your records to the insurance company. Provide examination notes, the results of any medical tests, and your laboratory results.
Your records should include a detailed account of your symptoms and demonstrate how these symptoms affect your life. Being transparent and forthright with your healthcare team about your symptoms is important.
Working with a Disability Attorney
If your disability benefits application has been rejected, don’t be discouraged. It’s not uncommon for first-time applicants to face denial. Remember, you can gather additional evidence to bolster your claim and contest this decision.
Having a disability attorney in your corner significantly increases your odds of securing the benefits you rightfully deserve. Engaging a legal professional can often be the deciding factor between whether an appeal is successful or not. It might seem overwhelming, but your disability attorney will guide you through the process. We operate on a contingency basis, which means our fees are paid out from the awarded funds – in other words, we only get paid if you win your case. This eliminates the stress of upfront payments or unforeseen expenses.
The Ortiz Law Firm has a track record of successfully representing disability claims nationwide. If you’re dealing with chemical sensitivities that hamper your work capacity, contact us at (888) 321-8131. Our experienced disability lawyers would happily evaluate your situation and guide you through the appeal process.