Meniere's disease is a disorder of the inner ear, specifically the vestibular labyrinth, which controls balance and positional awareness. The Social Security Administration has awarded disability benefits (both SSI and SSDI) for Meniere's disease.
Symptoms of Meniere's disease include vertigo (a sensation of that the room is spinning), fluctuating (and permanent) hearing loss, ringing in the ear (tinnitus), and a sensation of pressure in the ear canal. Nausea and vomiting frequently accompany the vertigo, and episodes can last from 20 minutes to several hours. Sufferers generally experience clustered episodes of Meniere's followed by long periods of wellness. Meniere's is sometimes confused with an acoustic neuroma because the symptoms are often the same.
Although the exact cause of Meniere's is unknown, it usually first occurs in people during their 40s and 50s. Some symptoms of Meniere's can be managed with medications and home care. Infrequently, however, patients must pursue more aggressive treatments, such as surgery and injections in the inner ear.
To determine whether you qualify for disability, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will check to see if you are earning less than $1,020 per month and whether your illness meets the requirements of one of the qualifying conditions in the SSA's listing of impairments. It it does, your disability claim will be automatically approved. Meniere's disease is a “disturbance of labyrinthine-vestibular function,” SSA Listing 2.07. This means that your condition is eligible for automatic approval if it meets all of the listing requirements.
To win automatic approval for your Meniere's, you must have:
Caloric and other vestibular tests. A caloric stimulation test is performed by pouring cold and warm water into the ear canal. When the inner ear comes into contact with cold water the eyes should move away from the cold water, and then slowly back to their original position. When the inner ear comes into contact with warm water the eyes should move toward the warm water, and then move slowly back to their original position. Other vestibular tests include the rotational chair test, posturography, and the fistula test.
Audiometry. Audiometry exams test a person's level of hearing loss. In a pure tone audiometry exam, the patient wears a set of headphones and tells the tester when he or she hears varying tones. In a speech audiometry exam, the patient listens to words emitted through a set of headphones and indicates to the tester when he or she hears and understands the word.
It is important that your hearing tests be performed by an audiologist. An audiologist is someone who specializes in treating and diagnosing hearing loss.
To qualify for disability, your Meniere's disease must last, or be expected to last, at least 12 consecutive months. Because of the nature of Meniere's, its symptoms often come on suddenly and then move into remission. To prove that your Meniere's meets the durational requirement, you should provide medical records with multiple doctor or audiologist visits that date as far back as possible to when your symptoms first began. This will give the SSA a clear picture of the frequency and intensity of your illness.
Even if your Meniere's doesn't meet the listing requirements, you could still win your claim for disability. The SSA will create a residual functional capacity assessment (RFC) for your file that details your ability to perform certain work-related activities in light of your Meniere's. To create your RFC, the SSA will consider all the medical evidence you have provided and may ask you to see a doctor or audiologist hired by the SSA (called a consultative examination, or “CE”).
For example, because of the possibility of the sudden onset of symptoms of Meniere's disease, your doctor might say that you are unable to work jobs that involve heights; your RFC would state this limitation. This would prevent the SSA from saying that you could perform jobs like painting or construction work.
Also, the medications used to treat the symptoms of Meniere's frequently have side effects like sleepiness and fatigue. If you experience these side effects, you should make the SSA aware of them and make sure that they are discussed in your medical records. For example, sleepiness and fatigue would make it dangerous for you to work around heavy equipment or machinery, precluding most warehouse, driving, or construction jobs. Fatigue would also impact your reliability and productivity. If you can prove that you suffer a 20% decrease in productivity, the SSA should find you disabled. (For more information, see our article on qualifying for disability due to reduced productivity.)
After creating an RFC for you, the SSA uses a formula to determine whether your RFC and vocational factors (your job skills, education, and age) put you into the disabled category. For more information, see our section on the RFC and medical-vocational decisions.