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Tinnitus and SSA Disability Benefits

How many of you have gone to a rock concert or club only to find the next morning your ears were ringing? This is called tinnitus (tih-NIGHT-us or TIN-ih-tus), and it affects approximately 1 in 5 people. Tinnitus can be the result of listening to loud music or experiencing something that damages the auditory cells in any part of your ear (the outer ear, the middle ear, the inner ear). It can also be a more serious symptom of another underlying condition such as a circulatory disease.

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It is estimated that over 12 million Americans have some degree of tinnitus, and although it is generally not serious, in some cases it can be so severe that it interferes with daily activities, including work. Other claimants may have the condition but it may go away after medical treatment or surgery.

Sounds that claimants with tinnitus may experience can include a hissing, whistling, high-pitched ringing, or roaring.

Should I go to the doctor?


Although most cases of tinnitus are not severe and may resolve on their own, there are specific times when it is important to go to a doctor. For instance, if you hear the noise only in one ear, you have hearing loss or the condition comes on suddenly and is accompanied by other symptoms such as the inability to walk, talk or speak this could be an indication that you are experiencing or have experienced a stroke.

Treatment is also recommended if you feel like the tinnitus is a pulsating rhythm which can indicate that you have high blood pressure and you are feeling the bulging of blood against the blood vessel near your ear.

Recommendations for this condition include avoiding caffeine, aspirin and stress, using a fan or radio when you sleep, taking antidepressant medication, protecting against further hearing loss or using biofeedback techniques. Severe cases of tinnitus may require surgical intervention.

Winning Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI)


The Social Security Administration has two methods for determining whether your condition is severe enough to win SSI or SSDI benefits: is the condition listed on the SSA Listing of Impairments (also known as the Blue Book this is a list of all the conditions and corresponding symptoms the SSA considers automatically disabling) or whether the condition is so severe it does not allow the claimant to perform substantial gainful activity (this is done through the medical vocational allowance process).

Tinnitus and the SSA Blue Book


Tinnitus may be evaluated under 2.00 Special Senses and Speech. If your tinnitus causes a disturbance of the labyrinthine-vestibular function it can be evaluated under Section 2.07. This listing requires that the claimant experiences a history of frequent attacks of balance disturbance, tinnitus, and progressive loss of hearing (established by audiometry).

There is also a listing for hearing loss under 2.00 Special Senses and Speech so if you have severe hearing loss you may also qualify for SSDI or SSI benefits, assuming you meet the nonmedical requirements.

Proving disability through a medical vocational allowance


The bottom line is it will be very difficult to win SSDI or SSI benefits for tinnitus. Your only option if you do not meet a listing is to prove you cannot work due to the tinnitus. This will also be very difficult to do. If your condition does not meet a listing it may be helpful to discuss your case with a disability lawyer.
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