Can You Get Disability for Hearing Loss and Tinnitus?

disability for tinnitus diagram

For some people, hearing loss and tinnitus can make daily life more difficult or put a damper on your ability to work, enjoy your favorite activities, or socialize. 

If hearing problems are disrupting your life, you may wonder if you’re eligible for Social Security disability benefits. Claiming these benefits could be key to bridging the financial gap if you’re unable to continue working. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has strict definitions and eligibility requirements for all disabilities, and hearing loss is no exception. Before you send in your benefits claim, take the time to understand these definitions and see if your situation applies.

What Are Tinnitus And Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss is exactly that: a reduction in your ability to hear. This can be due to noise exposure, a health condition, or just part of getting older. An estimated 48 million Americans are living with some degree of hearing loss.

"Treble Health helped me reduce my tinnitus by about 80%, and now I can live my life again!"
"Treble Health helped me reduce my tinnitus by about 80%, and now I can live my life again!"
– Steve D.
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Tinnitus is the perception of sound when no actual external source is present. Many people describe it as a buzzing, humming, or ringing in their ears. Tinnitus can be perceived in one or both ears or as a vague sound in your head. More than one in ten adults experience persistent tinnitus, and as many as 90% of cases of tinnitus are related to hearing loss. 

For some people, these conditions are a minimal nuisance. For others, symptoms can be severe or debilitating. In this case, disability benefits could help.

What Are Social Security Disability Benefits?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) is a governmental agency that provides benefits and financial assistance to those in need – including people whose lives are seriously impacted by disabilities. 

There are two types of disability benefits through the SSA. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) pays benefits to you and your family if your eligible employment paid sufficient Social Security taxes on your earnings. On the other hand, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) pays benefits based on financial need, regardless of previous employment. The programs are different, but the medical requirements are the same and they use the same definition of disability.

The way the Social Security Administration defines qualifying disabilities is very strict. This organization maintains a list of disabilities called The Blue Book. Not every health condition is considered a disability by the SSA, and those listed must be considered long-term and severe enough to interfere with your ability to work. Individuals living with disabilities as defined by the Blue Book may qualify for disability benefits.

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Hearing Loss And Tinnitus As Defined By The Blue Book

Because severe hearing loss can have a tremendous impact on your daily life, the SSA includes it as a disability eligible for benefits. Hearing impairment is listed in The Blue Book in Section 2.10 and Section 2.11.

Tinnitus, without any other accompanying and qualifying symptoms, is not listed in The Blue Book. According to the SSA’s definitions, tinnitus is not considered its own disorder.

However, according to Section 2.07 of The Blue Book, people with a disturbance of labyrinthine-vestibular function may meet the eligibility criteria for disability benefits. These health conditions have symptoms including inner ear problems and hearing loss. One of the most common conditions is Meniere’s disease. These conditions are frequently accompanied by tinnitus. 

Additionally, Section 12.00 of the Blue Book, lists mental disorders as a possible qualifier for disability benefits. Oftentimes, individuals with tinnitus will have comorbid conditions, like an anxiety disorder or depressive disorder. So, if you have a mental disorder in addition to tinnitus, you may be eligible for benefits using the mental disorder as the reason for your disability.

There are other conditions that are listed in the Blue Book that may be related to the perception of tinnitus, so it is worthwhile reviewing what disabilities are eligible for benefits. For example, cardiovascular issues or cancer are two conditions that are listed, which are often associated with tinnitus. You can review all of the eligible impairments here: Listing of Impairments

How Much Hearing Loss Do I Need In Order To Qualify For Disability Benefits?

The Social Security Administration has established guidelines that can determine the extent of your hearing loss that would qualify you for disability benefits. You’ll need to discuss your hearing ability with your doctor and complete an evaluation to determine if you are eligible. 

  • If you have hearing loss and do NOT have a cochlear implant, your hearing loss must be considered worse than severe to qualify. Eligibility requires profound hearing loss or very poor speech discrimination ability as measured on a standardized word recognition test. The SSA defines this level of hearing loss as:
    • Average hearing threshold sensitivity of 90 decibels (dB) or greater in the better ear and an average bone conduction hearing threshold of 60 dB or greater in the better ear.
    • Or word recognition score of 40% or less using a list of standardized words, as measured in the better ear. 
  • If you have hearing loss and DO have a cochlear implant, you may qualify if you meet the following criteria:
    • Cochlear implantation is considered a disability for one full year after implantation and eligible for benefits. 
    • After the first year, you must have a word recognition score of 60% or less using the Hearing In Noise Test (HINT) to qualify for benefits.
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Can I get disability benefits for subjective tinnitus?

The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine – a respected nonprofit that provides analyses on these topics – developed a document to help determine the eligibility of Social Security benefits for people with hearing loss. This resource states that most people who have tinnitus or hyperacusis are not considered disabled as defined by the Social Security Administration. 

However, there is a large body of evidence suggesting that tinnitus can impact your quality of life and ability to be successful at work. For people experiencing severe tinnitus, it can be difficult to concentrate, read, and get a good night’s sleep. Bothersome tinnitus can also impact your mental and emotional well-being and even your interpersonal relationships. 

Contact the audiologists at Treble Health to explore symptom management techniques and find the right tinnitus treatment for you.

How To Apply For Social Security Disability Benefits

If your hearing ability aligns with the SSA’s definitions in The Blue Book, you may be eligible for financial benefits. To start the application process, you must provide evidence to support your claim. Aside from your personal, financial, and employment information, your initial claim must include two documents from your doctor: the results of an otologic evaluation and an audiologic evaluation.

Otologic Evaluation

For this test, a licensed physician or audiologist will conduct a physical examination of your ears. This evaluation identifies:

  • Medical evidence of your disability. Your medical records, including information about any relevant medical condition or diagnosis in your records may provide evidence to support your disability claim. 
  • The impact of hearing loss. Part of the otologic evaluation determines how hearing loss impacts your life. For example, hearing loss might limit your ability to do your job or cause extreme fatigue.
  • Physical abnormalities contributing to your condition. Your doctor will check for anything out of the ordinary in one or both ears. They will check to make sure your eardrums look normal, if there are any middle ear abnormalities, and other problems with your ear structure.
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Audiologic Evaluation

A licensed audiologist or ear doctor will perform or supervise a hearing test taken without hearing aids, if you have them. This test is generally conducted in a sound-proofed or sound-treated booth and can determine:

  • Your hearing threshold. The doctor will use soft sounds, typically pure-tone beeps, to determine how much you can hear through air conduction and bone conduction. Air conduction refers to hearing sound as it travels through your outer, middle, and inner ear. Bone conduction directs the sound to your inner ear, skipping the outer ear and middle ear.
  • Your frequency range of hearing. Hearing loss can vary by pitch, so testing is typically completed between 250 Hz and 8000 Hz. For example, you may find it difficult to hear high or low pitched noises, or there could be multiple pitches where your hearing falls outside the normal range. 
  • How your brain processes and responds to spoken words. Hearing loss may make it more difficult to recognize and understand spoken words. Your audiologist or ear doctor will use a list of standardized words to determine speech discrimination. 
  • Your type of hearing loss. Hearing loss has many causes. Your hearing loss may be caused by a mechanical problem in your outer or middle ear, nerve or hair cell damage, or a combination of contributing factors. 

Considerations When Applying For Social Security Disability Benefits

When it comes to your eligibility for Social Security disability benefits, it’s not just your health that’s considered. Your income, reasonable accommodations that can be made to your job, work history, and your level of hearing loss are factored in, too. Everyone’s situation is unique, and depending on these factors, your initial claim might be denied. If you think you still qualify for benefits, you can appeal this decision and reapply. 

To begin the disability claims process, start with the Social Security Disability Benefits application. Be aware that the total number of disability claims have increased in recent years, so don’t be discouraged if processing your application takes several months. 

*** Disclaimer: While Treble Health does not provide legal advice, you may wish to reach out to a disability attorney who can accurately answer your questions about your eligibility for disability benefits. They can help you understand your unique situation and provide guidance through the application process.

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