Disability for Vestibular Balance Problems or Meniere's Disease

To get disability for vestibular problems, you should be able to prove you have problems with balance, ringing in the ears, and some hearing loss.

Vestibular balance disorder is a disorder of the vestibular system, a complex structure in the inner ear that works with other body systems to maintain balance. The causes of vestibular balance disorders are myriad and include infection and head injuries, though occasionally the cause is unknown. The most common vestibular balance disorder is Ménière's disease. The symptoms of vestibular balance disorders include vertigo, nausea, vomiting, profound dizziness, disorientation and blurred vision.

Can I Get Disability for My Vestibular Balance Disorder?

Social Security will determine whether your vestibular balance disorder meets or equals one of the qualifying conditions in Social Security's Listing of Impairments.

Listing 2.07: Disturbance of Labyrinthine-Vestibular Function

Social Security discusses the criteria for automatic approval for vestibular balance disorders (including Ménière's disease) under Listing 2.07. To meet the criteria for Listing 2.07, you must prove that your labyrinthine-vestibular disorder or Ménière's disease has caused recurrent problems with your balance, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and a gradual decrease in your ability to hear. In addition to these basic requirements, you must provide Social Security with the following:

  • results that show abnormal function of your vestibular labyrinth established by examinations such as positional or caloric testing (where cool or warm water or air is placed in the ear), and
  • a test that demonstrates your hearing loss.

If you can prove that your vestibular hearing disorder meets all of the criteria, your claim will be automatically approved. If you don't have problems with both balance and ringing in the ears, but you do have hearing loss, you may be able to qualify under hearing loss alone.

Medical Evidence You Need to Meet the Listing

Because symptoms of balance disorders such as vertigo can fluctuate over time and go into long periods of remission, it is important that you provide Social Security with medical records dating to when your symptoms first began. The medical records must include a detailed description of how long your attacks last, how severe they are, and how often they happen.

Vertigo symptoms include feelings of being in motion and positional disorientation; it is helpful to keep a log as to the frequency of the attacks and how they affect your ability to engage in your daily activities. You should also be able to demonstrate that you experience vertigo versus mere dizziness. If your doctor witnesses an episode of Ménière's related vertigo, he or she should describe whether you suffered from any observable symptoms like nausea, vomiting, incapacitation, or lack of muscle coordination.

You should provide Social Security with a complete list of all doctors you have seen to treat or diagnose your vestibular balance disorder and any hospital or clinics you have visited. Although Social Security must accept evidence from most licensed doctors, it often gives greater weight to the opinions and observations of doctors who specialize in your particular illness, such as neuro-otolaryngologists.

Social Security must also be provided with test results from any x-rays, MRIs, speech or hearing tests, and bone scans. Because of the complexity of the listing requirements, it will be helpful to review the criteria and test requirements with your physician. Your physician can determine if you meet the listing or if you need to undergo any additional tests that Social Security might require.

What if My Vestibular Balance Disorder Doesn’t Meet the Listing?

If your vestibular balance disorder doesn’t meet the listing requirement, you may still be approved, but it will be significantly more difficult. At this step, Social Security must decide if you can still do your old job despite your vestibular balance disorder. If it believes you can do your past work, your claim will be denied. If Social Security feels you cannot do your old job, it will take into consideration your age, education, past work experience and work limitations caused by your vestibular balance disorder to see if there is any other work you can do.

It is in your best interests to provide Social Security with a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) assessment prepared by your treating doctor. The RFC should state any work limitations you have that result from your vestibular balance disorder. For example, because dizziness and vertigo are the primary symptoms of balance disorders, your RFC should state that you must avoid any work that involves heights or heavy machinery. Also, if your attacks are frequent, you may miss more work that is acceptable; a decreased work productivity of 20% or more would prevent you from doing most jobs, according to Social Security. Some vestibular balance disorders, such as perilymph fistula, are triggered by physical exertion; your RFC should state whether you have limits on your ability to lift, carry, push and pull.

At this stage, approval is easer for older, less educated applicants. For more information, see Nolo's article on the grid of factors like age and education that Social Security takes into account when making its decision.

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