Disability for Acoustic Neuroma: Benefits and Filing Information

If symptoms from your acoustic neuroma significantly interfere with your ability to work, you may qualify for SSDI or SSI.

By , J.D. · Albany Law School
Updated by Diana Chaikin, Attorney · Seattle University School of Law

An acoustic neuroma (also known as a vestibular schwannoma) is a type of tumor that grows on the vestibulocochlear nerve, which connects your ear to your brain. Acoustic neuromas are slow-growing and non-cancerous, but they can affect your hearing and balance. When acoustic neuromas get large enough, they can damage other important nerves and increase pressure on the brain.

Can I Get Disability Benefits for an Acoustic Neuroma?

Social Security awards disability benefits to applicants who aren't able to work full-time for at least one year due to a medically determinable severe impairment. If your medical records show that symptoms from your acoustic neuroma cause significant functional limitations that keep you from working, you may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Symptoms can vary from person to person, but most applicants with acoustic neuroma struggle with hearing and balance. Common symptoms that may be disabling include:

  • hearing loss
  • ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • dizziness
  • feeling unsteady or imbalanced, and
  • vertigo.

Larger neuromas can press on the nearby facial nerve, causing numbness, pain, or paralysis in the face. Difficulty understanding speech, headaches, sleepiness, and reduced vision can also occur. If the tumor gets large enough to increase brain pressure—a condition which requires immediate medical care—you may experience severe headaches, clumsiness, and confusion.

Getting Disability for Acoustic Neuroma by Meeting a Listing

Social Security maintains a "Blue Book" of selected medical conditions that the agency considers to be especially severe. If you meet the requirements of a listed impairment, Social Security will award you disability benefits without needing to determine that you can't do any jobs.

Acoustic neuroma doesn't have its own listing in the Blue Book, but Social Security can evaluate the symptoms of the disorder under listing 2.07, Disturbance of labyrinthine-vestibular function. You can meet the requirements of this listing if you have a history of frequent episodes ("attacks") of balance disturbance, tinnitus, and progressive loss of hearing. You'll need to demonstrate that you've had these attacks with the following medical evidence:

  • caloric stimulation or other vestibular tests showing abnormal vestibular labyrinth functioning, and
  • hearing loss established by audiometry.

Caloric stimulation tests are conducted by introducing cold and warm water into the ear canal and checking to see that your eyes have a proper reflex (called nystagmus) in response.

Other vestibular tests typically refer to positional testing, where your eye movements are recorded (a method called electronystagmography) while your head is turned.

Audiometry tests measure hearing loss by having you identify a series of individual tones or spoken words.

Social Security will look for the above tests in your medical records to determine whether you meet listing 2.07. The tests should contain a detailed description of your balance or hearing loss episodes, including how long they last for, how frequently they occur, and how intense the attacks are when you have them. If you've had other testing performed, such as bone scans or cranial MRIs, make sure you let Social Security know where to obtain those results.

Getting Disability for Acoustic Neuroma With an RFC That Rules Out All Work

You can still qualify for disability benefits even if you don't meet the requirements of listing 2.07 if Social Security doesn't think that you're able to do any jobs. In order to determine whether you're capable of working, the agency will review your medical records, self-reported daily activities, and doctors' opinions to assess your residual functional capacity (RFC).

Your RFC is a set of limitations on what you can and can't do in a work environment. If your RFC contains enough limitations—sensory, physical, and mental—on the types of job tasks you can do, you might not be able to perform any work at all.

Sensory Limitations in Your RFC

People with acoustic neuroma often experience some degree of hearing loss, which can be reflected in their RFC with communication and environmental limitations. If you have tinnitus or trouble hearing, your RFC could contain restrictions on public interaction, telephone use, or workplace noise. These restrictions can rule out jobs in the service industry, telemarketing, and warehouse operations.

Vision problems can also occur when acoustic neuromas get big enough to press on optic nerves. Blurry vision may be reflected in your RFC as a restriction against driving, distinguishing similar objects, or operating hazardous machinery. These limitations can restrict or even eliminate many types of jobs, ranging from small parts assembly to cargo unloader.

Physical Limitations in Your RFC

Depending on the severity of your neuroma, you might experience difficulty maintaining balance when walking and carrying objects. For example, if you get dizzy bending over, struggle to walk in a straight line without an assistive device, or get vertigo when lifting more than 20 pounds, your RFC will contain physical restrictions on the kind of work you can do safely.

Physical restrictions can be exertional (strength-related) or non-exertional (involving other movements, like reaching or stooping). Common non-exertional restrictions include limitations on crouching, stooping, climbing, crawling, or kneeling—basically any way you can use your body that doesn't involve standing or lifting. Because such postural activities can be particularly dangerous for people with acoustic neuroma, these restrictions usually eliminate any jobs performed at heights or on uneven surfaces.

Mental Limitations in Your RFC

Social Security will consider whether you can perform certain mental activities required for any job, such as finishing tasks, following instructions, and maintaining attendance. The agency will also look at how well you're able to accept criticism from supervisors, communicate with coworkers, and handle work stress.

Many symptoms of acoustic neuroma can result in mental limitations. For example, somebody with a constant ringing in their ears may have difficulty concentrating on even basic job duties. Headaches and daytime sleepiness can affect workplace productivity, while confusion caused by pressure on the brain can make it hard to understand simple directions.

How Social Security Uses Your RFC Assessment to Make a Disability Determination

Social Security will first consider whether somebody of your age, education, and skills can currently perform any of the jobs you've done in the past 15 years. If you can't do your past work, the agency will then need to see whether any other jobs exist that you can perform.

Most applicants under the age of 50 will need to show that they can't do even the simplest sit-down jobs before Social Security can award them disability benefits. Applicants 50 years of age and older may have an easier time getting benefits under a special set of rules called the medical-vocational grid.

Applying for Disability Benefits for Acoustic Neuroma

Social Security offers several methods for you to start your application for disability benefits.

  • File online at Social Security's website.
  • Call 888-772-1213 between the hours of 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, to speak with a representative who can help you fill out the forms. (People who are deaf or hard of hearing can call the TTY number at 800-325-0778.)
  • Apply in person at your local Social Security field office.

You can also ask an experienced disability attorney to help you with your application. Your lawyer will be able to handle all communication with Social Security on your behalf, making sure that you don't miss any important appeal deadlines and that all your relevant medical records are submitted to the agency on time.

Updated December 27, 2023

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