Vertigo is a sudden sensation of motion or spinning, often described as dizziness. When a disability applicant ("claimant") files for Social Security disability benefits due to vertigo, the claimant usually has a related impairment such as vestibular balance disorder, Meniere's disease, or an unspecified inner ear problem. Even when unrelated to another condition, claimants may still qualify for disability benefits if vertigo significantly interferes with their ability to work.
Vertigo is sometimes caused by something relatively harmless, like a virus or a migraine. However, vertigo may also be an indicator of more serious conditions like stroke, tumors, diabetic complications, or drug toxicities. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) or skull fractures can also lead to vertigo.
Symptoms of vertigo include:
Treatments for vertigo include medications (such as Dramamine) or, for cases of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, performing a canalith repositioning procedure to help rebalance pressure in the inner ear canal. The procedure simply involves shifting from one position to another for half a minute until the vertigo resolves. People with a type of vertigo known as persistent postural-perceptual dizziness (PPPD) can benefit from vestibular rehabilitation therapy that re-establishes a better sense of balance.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes that vertigo symptoms can prevent people from performing jobs safely. Positional disorientation, the feeling of being in motion, and motion sickness are examples of symptoms that can make certain kinds of work challenging or impossible.
Many instances of vertigo are temporary and easily resolved, and might not meet the severity and durational requirements under Social Security's disability determination process. (The SSA doesn't offer short-term disability benefits, only "permanent" disability.) You'll have a greater chance of getting benefits if you can show evidence of an additional underlying condition or some amount of hearing loss in addition to your vertigo.
Labyrinthine-vestibular dysfunction occurs when your eye and inner ear are out of sync, causing the world to appear unstable and "bouncy." The SSA considers this disorder—which includes Ménière's disease—severe enough to be a listed impairment, a category of conditions that can qualify somebody for benefits automatically.
If your vertigo is caused by labyrinthine-vestibular dysfunction or Ménière's disease, you can meet the requirements of Listing 2.07 by having documentation in your medical record of frequent balance problems, tinnitus, and partial hearing loss.
You'll also need to have a specific type of test conducted that shows that your vestibular labyrinth—the part of your inner ear that helps you maintain balance—is damaged or disrupted. Additionally, you'll need an audiometry test showing that you have hearing loss.
Vestibular tests help your doctors determine how well your inner ear is working. Acceptable vestibular tests the SSA will look for include:
Most vestibular tests use a method called electronystagmography or videonystagmography to record eye function. When conducting these tests, your doctor might give you special goggles to wear to help track your eye movements.
Audiometry tests record your level of hearing loss. Common audiometry tests that the SSA will want to see include the following:
Some people don't meet the requirements of Listing 2.07 but aren't able to work full-time due to their vertigo symptoms. To decide whether you can work, Social Security reviews your medical records and your activities of daily living to determine your residual functional capacity (RFC).
Your RFC is a set of limitations on what you can and can't do safely in a work environment. A typical RFC for somebody with vertigo will likely contain restrictions against activities that could worsen their symptoms, or that could be hazardous even with mild difficulties with balance or dizziness. Examples of these restrictions include:
If your past work involved tasks that are currently restricted in your RFC (for example, construction jobs), Social Security won't expect you to return to that work. Depending on other factors—such as being over the age of 50 and having specific exertional limitations—being unable to perform your past work might be enough for the SSA to find you disabled under the medical-vocational grid rules.
For people younger than 50 or who aren't disabled under the grid rules, the SSA will need to see that they can't perform even the least stressful sedentary ("sit-down") jobs. Because most sit-down jobs don't involve exposure to heights or hazards, it can be hard to rule out all these jobs based on vertigo symptoms alone.
You'll have more success qualifying for benefits with multiple impairments that result in additional restrictions in your RFC. Social Security must consider the combined effects of your conditions when determining whether you can work, and the more limitations you have in your RFC, the fewer jobs exist that you can perform.
For more information, see our articles on how Social Security decides if you can work or are disabled.
To complete your SSA disability application, you'll need to gather a lot of information. In addition to medical documentation (medical records, doctors' reports, test results, and more), you'll need:
Before you begin your application, gather as many of these documents as you can. But don't put off starting your application just because you're missing something. SSA representatives can work with you to get anything you're missing.
Filling out the online application is the fastest way to apply for benefits. You can complete it at a time and place that's convenient for you (even outside the United States). You can also stop and start your application as often as necessary. And you'll be able to check the status of your application while you wait for a determination.
You might experience long wait times, but you can apply for disability benefits by phone Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. (local time). Call 800-772-1213 to speak to a representative. TTY is available for the hearing impaired at 800-325-0778.
Social Security offices have recently reopened following long closures due to COVID-19. But lines are long, so you should call your local Social Security office to set up an appointment before you go in. (Find your local SSA office.)
Once you've completed your Social Security or SSI disability application for vertigo, it can take several months for a decision. SSA will notify you of their determination by mail.
Learn more about how your disability claim is processed.
Updated February 7, 2023