Can COPD Impact Your Employment?

A diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)—a condition that causes inflammation of the lungs and severe difficulty breathing—may seem like the end of life as you know it. In truth, many things will be different from now on. But although at first, it may not seem possible, once you and your healthcare provider have worked out how best to manage your COPD, you may find that it will be much less disruptive than you feared.

Anxious Hispanic businessman rubbing forehead at office desk

This may be particularly true of your work life. Although some research has shown that in certain cases a person with COPD may have a significant drop in income and even wind up quitting work altogether, neither is a given. In fact, both are more likely to result from the impact of health conditions associated with COPD, such as pneumonia or heart disease, rather than the disease itself.

Of course, if you've been diagnosed with COPD and it's clear the type of work you do will make your condition worse, you may want to consider long-term disability. Otherwise, there are many viable ways to continue working productively and earning a living while living with COPD. 

Making Your Workplace Work For You

If your job is likely to have little impact on your condition and you choose to continue working, talk to your employer about making adjustments in your physical environment and schedule that will allow you to continue working with as few disruptions as possible.

Some relatively easy things your employer might do to accommodate you include:

  • Assigning a parking space for you that's close to the door
  • Moving your workstation closer to the entrance of the building
  • Permitting you to work from home a couple of days a week, or even every day
  • Giving you the flexibility to come in late or leave early for healthcare provider appointments 
  • Providing a smoke-free, dust-free, fume-free environment—for instance, asking your co-workers not to wear heavy colognes or perfumes
  • Making sure the office has adequate ventilation
  • Allowing you to use a scooter or motorized cart in the office

The Importance of Self-Care

While your employer will be concerned about your personal health and well-being, he also will understandably need to feel confident you'll do what you can to stay productive. Let him know that for your part, you will:

Should You Retire?

Leaving your job early because of COPD can have a negative impact on your pension benefits and a dramatic effect on your financial well-being and that of your family's. For that reason, don't be too quick to accept early retirement.

First check in with your healthcare provider to make sure you really are doing all you can to continue working, such as using oxygen therapy at work or trying a different medication to reduce your breathlessness.

Next turn to a financial planner and the personnel department of your company. If early retirement really is your best option, both can help you make preparations to ensure that you and your family are well taken care of.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Wheaton AG, Cunningham TJ, Ford ES, Croft JB; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Employment and activity limitations among adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease—United States. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep.;64(11):289-95.

  2. COPD Foundation. Medically qualifying for disability with COPD.

  3. U.S. Department of Labor. Job accommodations.

  4. American Lung Association. COPD management tools.

  5. Fletcher MJ, Upton J, Taylor-Fishwick J, et al. COPD uncovered: an international survey on the impact of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD] on a working age population. BMC Public Health. 2011;11:612. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-612

Additional Reading

By Deborah Leader, RN
 Deborah Leader RN, PHN, is a registered nurse and medical writer who focuses on COPD.