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Tinnitus and Disability

Tinnitus affects one in five individuals and is commonly listed on disability applications. However, it does not have its own listing in the SSA Blue Book. It is most often evaluated under listing 2.07, Disturbance of labyrinthine-vestibular function. The listing requires a history of frequent attacks of balance disturbance, tinnitus, and progressive loss of hearing verified by an audiometry test.

Unfortunately tinnitus can also be associated with heightened states of anxiety. This can lead to fears about triggering further changes in the tinnitus through for example exposure to relatively normal levels of environmental noise. Ultimately in some individuals there can be a mal-adaptation leading them to seek quieter more controlled environments thus avoiding social contact or even continuing to stay in employment.

Although hearing loss may be a major symptom that can cause long-term issues for tinnitus sufferers, most cases list cognitive impairments as one of the main reasons for their disability. Tinnitus can make it impossible to focus, sleep, or concentrate.

Do not ignore your cognitive symptoms. Even if it is hard to talk about your struggles completing daily tasks or your mental lapses, you need to bring these issues up with your medical team. Your doctors might schedule a neuropsychology exam, which can help you understand how tinnitus is affecting your ability to think and process information.

It’s important that you know the difference between the two types of tinnitus as well as be familiar with which type you have.

  • If you have objective tinnitus your doctor will be able to hear noise in your ear(s) or will be able to detect a pulsating motion from the surrounding structure of the ear.
  • If your doctor is unable to hear any sound, you have subjective tinnitus, which is the most common type.

Facts about tinnitus

1. Tinnitus, a symptom of a variety of conditions, causes phantom (not real) noises in the ears. These noises may sound like ringing, buzzing, roaring, clicking, whistling or hissing, and can vary from low or high pitch.

2. Severity of tinnitus varies ‘ some people may experience very loud noise or very quiet noise, and some may experience noise at all times or just some of the time. Tinnitus is not dangerous, but it is an annoyance and may impact quality of life.

3. Impact on quality of life may lead those with tinnitus to seek treatment for anxiety and depression, stress, irritability, fatigue, memory problems.

4. Tinnitus can be subjective or objective. Subjective tinnitus is only heard by the affected individual, while objective tinnitus can be heard by a doctor during an ear exam. Objective tinnitus is rare, and is caused by problems with muscle tissue, blood vessels or bone of the inner ear.

5. Tinnitus is most commonly caused by normal hearing loss associated with age, typically 60 years and older, noise-related hearing loss (leading to either short or long-term tinnitus), excessive build up of earwax, and bone problems, such as stiffening, in the inner ear.

6. Medications can cause tinnitus, which typically increases along with the dosage. Antibiotics, malaria medication, cancer treatments, diuretics and very high doses of aspirin may cause temporary tinnitus.

7. White males over the age of 65 are the most likely to develop tinnitus. Those who have hearing loss or have been exposed to extended periods of loud noise without protecting the ears are at a higher risk for developing tinnitus.

8. Devices that create white noise may help mask the sound. Medications such as certain antidepressants and anxiety medications may be helpful in severe cases. Sometimes alleviating tinnitus is as simple as removing earwax buildup, changing a medication, or treating an underlying condition.

When the SSA evaluates your claim for tinnitus, there are several criteria they use to see if you qualify for disability benefits. To win approval, you must:

  • Have a medically determinable impairment that will last 12 months or longer or result in death;
  • Be incapable of engaging in SGA ; and
  • Meet other financial or work history requirements, depending on which benefit you are applying for.

Filing a disability insurance claim can feel overwhelming, especially if you are struggling with cognitive impairments, depression, or anxiety. When you work with an experienced long-term disability attorney, they will handle all the details of your claim for you.

That means that the adjuster will no longer contact you directly. Instead, your lawyer will respond to all the insurer’s requests, make sure that you meet the necessary deadlines, and provide you with the information you need to make smart decisions.


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