Meniere's disease is a disorder of the inner ear—specifically, the vestibular labyrinth—which controls balance and positional awareness. As a result, people with Meniere's disease might have difficulty completing many daily activities or even working full-time.
Because Meniere's symptoms often come on suddenly and then disappear quickly, your medical record should contain frequent doctors' or audiologist visits. With consistent documentation, the Social Security Administration (SSA) can award disability benefits (SSI and SSDI) for Meniere's disease if the disorder causes your earnings to fall below $1,470 per month for at least twelve months.
Meniere's is sometimes confused with an acoustic neuroma because the symptoms are often the same. Symptoms of Meniere's disease include:
People with Meniere's generally experience clustered "episodes" of symptoms by long periods of wellness. Episodes can last from 20 minutes to several hours.
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. For more severe cases of Meniere's, however, doctors might recommend more aggressive treatments, such as surgery and inner ear injections.
Meniere's disease is a listed impairment, meaning that you can qualify for disability benefits automatically if your medical record contains specific evidence set out in the listing criteria. But even if you don't meet the listing requirements, you can get disability benefits if you can show that symptoms from your Meniere's disease keep you from working any job full-time.
Social Security evaluates Meniere's disease under listing 2.07, Disturbance of labyrinthine-vestibular function. In order to meet the requirements of the listing, your medical record must show that you have frequent episodes ("attacks") of balance disturbance, tinnitus, and progressive hearing loss. You'll also need to have specific tests conducted in order to show that your inner ear isn't functioning properly, and you'll need an audiometry exam to establish your hearing loss.
Make sure that your hearing tests are performed by an audiologist (a doctor who specializes in treating and diagnosing hearing loss). The test results must include your audiologist's description of your external ear appearance, evaluation of your eardrums, and assessment of any middle ear abnormalities.
You can still win your claim for disability even if you don't meet the criteria for listing 2.07 if you can show that no jobs exist that you can do despite your symptoms. In order to decide whether you can work, Social Security will first need to determine your residual functional capacity (RFC).
Your RFC 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 attend a consultative examination with a doctor or audiologist who works with Social Security. Any functional limitations that your doctors treat you for in your medical records will be reflected as work restrictions in your RFC.
For example, because vertigo is a common symptom of Meniere's disease, your doctor might say that, as a fall risk, you should avoid heights. This limitation would rule out jobs like painting or construction.
Additionally, many medications used to treat the symptoms of Meniere's have side effects (such as sleepiness and fatigue) that would make it dangerous for you to work around heavy equipment or keep pace on an assembly line. If you experience these side effects, let your doctor know so that Social Security can incorporate any limitations from these medications into your RFC.
The SSA will look at your work history and compare the physical and mental demands of your past jobs to the restrictions in your current RFC. If you're unable to do any of your past work now—for example, if your RFC contains a restriction against driving and you used to deliver pizza—Social Security will need to determine whether any other jobs exist that you can do despite your limitations.
For most people under the age of 50, Social Security needs to see that you can't do even the easiest sit-down jobs. Because limitations from Meniere's don't usually rule out desk jobs that have a low risk of injury, getting disability based only on Meniere's as a younger individual can be hard. You'll increase your chances of a successful disability claim if you can show that you have multiple medical conditions which, when combined, keep you from doing sit-down work.
People who are 50 years of age or older may be able to get disability benefits even if they're able to do sit-down work under a special set of circumstances called the medical-vocational grid rules ("the grid"). The grid takes into account factors such as your education, work experience, and whether or not you have any transferable skills to determine whether you learn to do a new job before you hit full retirement age.
Social Security has many options for starting your disability claim.
You can read more in our article on how to file an application for Social Security disability benefits.
Updated July 24, 2023