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Facts about Blepharospasm and Filing for Disability
These selected pages answer some of the most basic, but also some of the most important, questions for individuals who are considering filing a claim for disability benefits.
Facts about the condition
1. The name blepharospasm explains this rare condition well; in Greek blepharo means eyelid, so blepharospasm literally means a ‘spasm of the eyelid. ‘
2. Blepharospasm is usually harmless, but bothersome, as the condition causes uncontrollable twitching in the eyelids and around the eyes.
3. Symptoms of blepharospasm can be mild, lasting only a few days, but are often long-term and more severe.
4. In the most severe cases of blepharospasm, the eyelids close for periods of time and won’t open, causing functional blindness.
5. Symptoms include dry eyes and sensitivity to light, which often leads to misdiagnosis early on. More severe symptoms include muscle spasms around the eyes and in the face, sometimes down into the neck. Another more severe symptom is abnormal blinking, where blinking either occurs too frequently or the eyelids close for longer than a normal blink.
6. Early diagnosis is improving, but the rarity of the condition and the mild onset of symptoms often lead to misdiagnosis as dry eye syndrome or simply allergies.
7. It is unknown what causes blepharospasm, although there are indicators that certain factors seem to induce the condition. Long term stress, anxiety conditions, and fatigue can all cause blepharospasm. Hormone replacement medications, medications for Parkinson’s disease and benzodiazepine drugs (such as Valium) can cause the onset of blepharospasm symptoms. Damage to or abnormal function of the basal ganglia in the brain, such as due to head injury, can cause blepharospasm to develop.
8. Treatment for blepharospasm is varied and does not work for all patients. Medications require an individualized treatment plan, and may take some time to discover what works for the patient. Magnesium chloride has worked for some patients. Botox injections works best for most patients, as it paralyzes the muscles around the eyes to stop them from twitching. Surgery to remove some of the muscles that control eyelid closure is an option for patients who do not find relief from other methods such as Botox.
Qualifying for disability benefits with this condition
Whether or not you qualify for disability and, as a result, are approved for disability benefits will depend entirely on the information obtained from your medical records.
This includes whatever statements and treatment notes that may have been obtained from your treating physician (a doctor who has a history of treating your condition and is, therefore, qualified to comment as to your condition and prognosis). It also includes discharge summaries from hospital stays, reports of imaging studies (such as xrays, MRIs, and CT scans) and lab panels (i.e. bloodwork) as well as reports from physical therapy.
In many disability claims, it may also include the results of a report issued by an independent physician who examines you at the request of the Social Security Administration.
Qualifying for SSD or SSI benefits will also depend on the information obtained from your vocational, or work, history if you are an adult, or academic records if you are a minor-age child. In the case of adults, your work history information will allow a disability examiner (examiners make decisions at the initial claim and reconsideration appeal levels, but not at the hearing level where a judges decides the outcome of the case) to A) classify your past work, B) determine the physical and mental demands of your past work, C) decide if you can go back to a past job, and D) whether or not you have the ability to switch to some type of other work.
The important thing to keep in mind is that the social security administration does not award benefits based on simply having a condition, but, instead, will base an approval or denial on the extent to which a condition causes functional limitations. Functional limitations can be great enough to make work activity not possible (or, for a child, make it impossible to engage in age-appropriate activities).
Why are so many disability cases lost at the disability application and reconsideration appeal levels?
There are several reasons but here are just two:
1) Social Security makes no attempt to obtain a statement from a claimant's treating physician. By contrast, at the hearing level, a claimant's disability attorney or disability representative will generally obtain and present this type of statement to a judge.
Note: it is not enough for a doctor to simply state that their patient is disabled. To satisy Social Security's requirements, the physician must list in what ways and to what extent the individual is functionally limited. For this reason, many representatives and attorneys request that the physician fill out and sign a specialized medical source statement that captures the correct information. Solid Supporting statements from physicians easily make the difference between winning or losing a disability case at the hearing level.
2) Prior to the hearing level, a claimant will not have the opportunity to explain how their condition limits them, nor will their attorney or representative have the opportunity to make a presentation based on the evidence of the case. This is because at the initial levels of the disability system, a disability examiner decides the case without meeting the claimant. The examiner may contact the claimant to gather information on activities of daily living and with regard to medical treatment or past jobs, but usually nothing more. At the hearing level, however, presenting an argument for approval based on medical evidence that has been obtained and submitted is exactly what happens.
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