Understanding Tinnitus as a disability

Published November 29, 2022

Tinnitus is an audio phenomenon often characterized by a ringing or buzzing in one or both ears. It’s a common condition, affecting an estimate of around 50 million Americans. Tinnitus is a common service-connected disability suffered by veterans.

In this piece, we’ll explore the basic characteristics of this prevalent condition. We’ll also discuss whether tinnitus can qualify you for disability benefits.

What are the symptoms of tinnitus?

Tinnitus commonly manifests as ringing in the ears. Tinnitus noises don’t come from an external source. Only the person with tinnitus can hear them.

Ringing is not the only way the condition can appear, however. Tinnitus can materialize in the form of whistling or buzzing. People with tinnitus may also experience a pulsing sensation in their ears.

Tinnitus can also bring about a wide range of residual side effects. Frequent among these effects are emotional or mental duress. This is because tinnitus can be annoying, disruptive, and even painful. 

Insomnia is another common side effect. Because of the constant nature of tinnitus, many people who have it find it hard to sleep.

What causes tinnitus?

Tinnitus is often the result of different conditions in the body. The most common of these conditions is hearing loss. For example, if you attend a loud concert without any ear protection, you may experience a temporary bout of ringing in the ears.

According to Mayoclinic, people who work in noisy environments are at higher risk for tinnitus. This may include musicians, construction workers, and even soldiers in the line of duty. Other risky demographics include men and people who are older than 40. Tinnitus is the number-one disability among Veterans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

This is not always the case. It’s not too uncommon for tinnitus to manifest independently of hearing loss. People may experience both but only notice their tinnitus after their hearing degrades. 

Tinnitus may also arise as a result of eustachian tube dysfunction. This refers to when the middle ear's tube to the upper throat remains expanded. This creates a sensation of fullness in the ear, resulting in tinnitus.

Certain kinds of medication may also cause tinnitus or make the condition worse. Examples of these medications include antibiotics, malaria medication, cancer treatments, diuretics, and very high doses of aspirin.

Is there a cure?

There are currently no cures for tinnitus. Though technological advances offer some hope for the future, an immediate remedy remains elusive. At present, tinnitus treatment consists of easing the impact of its symptoms. 

A common treatment is the use of sound therapy. People with tinnitus will use sound therapy to help mask the ringing or hissing caused by tinnitus. Examples of sound therapy include listening to white noise. The purpose of these treatments is to help people ignore their tinnitus symptoms.

People with tinnitus may also be prescribed antidepressants. While this may not cure any direct tinnitus symptoms, it may help with the residual psychological stress accompanying the condition. 

People with tinnitus can make lifestyle changes to manage their condition. Examples include reducing caffeine and alcohol, as these tend to agitate symptoms. 

People with tinnitus are also encouraged to use hearing protection in loud settings, such as concerts. Noisy environments can lead to what’s referred to as a “tinnitus spike.” This is an extended period when tinnitus symptoms are particularly intrusive. 

Tinnitus as a disability

There are several arguments for the case of tinnitus as a disability. Due to its disruptive nature, people with tinnitus may find it hard to go through life. They may find themselves incapable of working as a result of the condition. They may also be unable to participate in other parts of life, like socializing.

There are also references to tinnitus in section 2.07 of the Social Security Administration (SSA) Bluebook. The SSA Bluebook lists disabilities that the SSA considers severe enough to keep people from working. As such, these are conditions that may qualify individuals for disability benefits. 

Listing 2.07 of the Bluebook refers to “a disturbance of labyrinthine- vestibular function.” This means a disruption of the tubes in the inner ear. Qualifications for this condition include “...a history of frequent attacks of balance disturbance, tinnitus, and progressive loss of hearing verified by an audiometry test.”

Can you get disability benefits if you have tinnitus?

If you have tinnitus, you may be eligible to receive disability benefits. However, this can be difficult due to the obstacles presented by insurance companies. Insurance companies often focus on whether an individual has any hearing loss related to tinnitus.

According to Riemer Hess, attorneys at law, this presents a problem because most tinnitus disability cases have less to do with hearing loss and more to do with secondary cognitive, emotional, and psychological issues that stem from the condition.   

As a result, there are short-term or long-term disability benefits that you can apply for based on your needs. You may be eligible for SSA benefits based on qualifying for listing 2.07. As previously mentioned, a history of tinnitus is among the criteria for 2.07.

According to the Social Security Disability Resource Center (SSDRC), if you do not meet approval under this listing, you may try to qualify under listing 2.10. This refers to hearing loss not being treated with a cochlear implant.

SSDRC goes on to say that if you can’t match with any listing of the SSA Bluebook, you will need to verify that your tinnitus is substantially disrupting your daily life. You will also need to prove that you cannot work due to their condition. You can do this alongside your primary care physician.

To prove this, you will need some verification. You must first provide medical records that objectively verify the degree to which their tinnitus is disruptive. You will also need to provide your work history to give context to the type of work you can no longer perform due to your tinnitus diagnosis. 

United States Department of Veterans Affairs provides benefits to veterans suffering from tinnitus. Their benefits often cover a flat 10 percent disability rating for both ears, pending the person served on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training.

In closing

If you silently suffer from tinnitus, know that you aren’t alone. About 25 million Americans live with some degree of the condition, and there are more and more resources for getting treatment and financial assistance.

Though there isn’t a cure yet, there are things that can make the condition bearable. Additionally, you may be eligible to receive disability benefits with the help of your doctor and a disability attorney. 


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