Is Tinnitus a Disability? A Claimant’s Guide
Most people think of tinnitus as “just” ringing in the ears. But if you are among the millions living with this audiological and neurological condition, you know how profoundly it can change your life.
However, tinnitus-related disability claims are often complicated. The condition is often diagnosed based on your reported symptoms—not a clear-cut test. So, insurance companies often deny these short-term and long-term disability claims, especially those involving subjective tinnitus.
If you are considering filing a disability insurance claim, we are here to assist you. Our team of disability lawyers can help you through the process of seeking short-term or long-term benefits for your impairment. In this article, we discuss the basics of tinnitus and how to strengthen your claim.
What Is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is a condition effecting an estimated 15% of the public, according to the CDC. It causes a perception of sound, more commonly known as “ringing in the ears,” when no actual sound is occurring. While tinnitus can be both acute, or temporary, and chronic, around 20 million people suffer from chronic symptoms. Roughly two million tinnitus victims categorize their symptoms as either extreme or debilitating.
Although there is no one direct cause of tinnitus, there are a few leading causes:
- Middle ear obstructions blocking the inner ear,
- Head and neck trauma,
- Traumatic brain injury
- Hearing loss due to loud noises or the aging process
No two cases of tinnitus are the same, so it is important to understand where your case falls in the spectrum of symptoms. Tinnitus can be categorized into two main categories, subjective and objective, with the first being more common than the second.
Types of Tinnitus: Subjective vs. Objective Tinnitus
There is one key difference between the two forms of tinnitus, perception of sound. Visiting a medical professional, like an audiologist, may help you understand whether you have objective or subjective tinnitus. Disability claims will require a diagnosis from your doctor which may affect your eligibility, so it is important to seek a medical opinion before filing
- Subjective: The more common of the two types of tinnitus, subjective tinnitus is when only the patient experiencing symptoms can perceive any head or ear noises. This form of tinnitus can be linked to a variety of different causes and is the most common form of tinnitus, with over 99% of cases falling into this category.
- Objective: Objective tinnitus makes up less than 1% of all tinnitus cases and is normally caused by the body’s circulatory and somatic systems. Patients with this condition will experience head or ear noises that are audible to both them and other people, often through testing and examination.
Finding out what type of tinnitus you have is important for your claim, as it will likely affect your insurance’s decision. Insurance companies will ask for objective proof from a medical professional to confirm the causes and symptoms of your condition. They will request medical records of any test results, such as hearing tests, cognitive tests, or physical examinations.
Common Symptoms of Tinnitus
The symptoms of tinnitus vary from person to person in both form and degree but tend to fall under three categories. Tonal tinnitus shows more continuous and well-defined symptoms, often associated with subjective tinnitus. Pulsatile tinnitus, named after the pulsing sounds its patients experience, is associated with objective tinnitus, and usually indicates vascular issues. Musical tinnitus is the perception of music or singing and is extremely rare.
Tinnitus can cause patients to experience a wide variety of symptoms, both cognitive and physical, that can impact overall quality of life, so it is important to understand what may be related to your condition or not.
Physical Tinnitus Symptoms
Symptoms of tinnitus tend to be related to some form of perception of sound, but can go beyond, causing physical pain, disorientation, and hearing loss. It is important to get these symptoms assessed by a medical professional to strengthen your disability claim and diagnosis.
Physical symptoms can include:
- Ringing in the ears at different or consistent pitches
- Buzzing, roaring, clicking, hissing, or humming in the ears
- Hearing loss or impairment
- Nose or throat pain
Cognitive Tinnitus Symptoms
Cognitive symptoms can severely affect your mental health and are equally as important to your claim as physical symptoms. Gathering evidence of these symptoms will help to strengthen your claim and add further evidence of your qualification for disability. Some examples of cognitive symptoms caused by tinnitus are:
- Trouble sleeping and concentrating
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Can I Get Long-Term Disability Benefits for Tinnitus?
If you are living with severe tinnitus, you might be eligible for short-term or long-term disability benefits. These insurance policies provide a monthly benefit during periods when you cannot work—but you must meet the requirements of your policy or plan.
Your plan document or policy should outline the specific terms and conditions that apply to your claim. However, you will always need to prove that you meet the insurance company’s definition of disability to receive benefits. Your policy probably defines “disability” in one of two ways:
- Own occupation: you cannot perform your current job, due to tinnitus and other health issues
- Any occupation: your tinnitus and health conditions make it impossible to do any type of work
Convincing an insurance adjuster that your tinnitus is disabling can be an uphill battle. Sometimes, doctors diagnose tinnitus solely based on your subjective symptoms, not objective diagnostic tests (like an MRI or hearing test). In these cases, the insurance company could argue that there is no “real” proof that you have tinnitus—or that your condition is as severe as you claim.
How to Strengthen Your Disability Benefit Claim for Tinnitus
For any short or long-term disability case, you will be required to provide both proof of your medical condition and ongoing treatment. In cases of tinnitus, insurance companies will often focus primarily on the symptom of hearing loss, although this is a common misconception. Hiring an experienced disability lawyer will help you to build your case and ensure you follow all the right steps to get the benefits you deserve.
Here are a few ways that you can strengthen your claim for disability insurance benefits.
Do Not Minimize Your Hearing Loss, Mental Health Conditions, Cognitive Problems, or Other Tinnitus Symptoms
The disability insurance adjuster must consider all your medical conditions and their related symptoms. However, if your medical records do not consistently document your tinnitus-related issues, you might run into problems.
If you have been hesitant to talk to your doctors about the severity of your tinnitus or related psychological or cognitive challenges, the adjuster might argue that your symptoms are not as severe as you claim or that your condition has improved.
Here are a few things you need to know.
Tinnitus and Hearing Loss
Although hearing loss is often a main cause and effect of tinnitus, many patients gloss over it, because they consider other symptoms to be more disabling. However, insurance companies often deny disability claims that do not include proof of substantial hearing loss.
If you do not undergo regular hearing tests, ask your doctors if it is time for a new assessment.
Tinnitus and Cognitive Impairments
Although hearing loss may be a major symptom that can cause long-term issues for tinnitus sufferers, most cases list cognitive impairments as one of the main reasons for their disability. Tinnitus can make it impossible to focus, sleep, or concentrate.
Do not ignore your cognitive symptoms. Even if it is hard to talk about your struggles completing daily tasks or your mental lapses, you need to bring these issues up with your medical team. Your doctors might schedule a neuropsychology exam, which can help you understand how tinnitus is affecting your ability to think and process information.
Tinnitus, Depression, and Anxiety
In some serious cases, tinnitus can cause or worsen depression and anxiety. Do not ignore common signs of mental health problems, including:
- Feelings of sadness
- Generalized worry
- Social isolation or anxiety when out in public
- Racing thoughts
- Irritability or mood changes
- Lack of interest in your past hobbies and pastimes
- Malaise or fatigue
- Thoughts of self-harm
Your doctors and therapists can help you manage these feelings with medication, counseling, and other therapies.
If you are suffering from suicidal thoughts, please seek immediate mental health treatment.
Receive Appropriate Treatment for Your Condition
Currently, there is no cure for most types of tinnitus, but that does not mean you should suffer alone. There are still ways for people with tinnitus to receive medical treatment for their condition. Whether audiological, physical, or neurological, the treatment you receive will provide valuable information that should support your short-term or long-term disability claim.
In cases involving objective tinnitus, treatment will focus on an underlying cause or condition. Treatment may focus on addressing your blood pressure issues, cardiovascular disease, TMJ, eustachian tube dysfunction, Lyme disease, or other conditions.
If an underlying condition is not the cause of your tinnitus, you may be given treatment focusing on symptom management. Treatment of these symptoms can include a wide range of options, such as use of hearing aids, cochlear implants, physical therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, white noise machine therapy, neuromonic device therapy, and avoidance of certain foods or substances.
While you might be tempted to self-treat, it is important to follow your doctors’ recommendations. Every time you see a doctor or therapist, they will create notes that outline your current symptoms, limitations, and their recommended treatment. While this might seem unimportant, these records will be an essential part of your disability insurance claim—and the adjuster is not likely to take you at your word along.
Follow Up With Your Doctors, When Needed
Regardless of the recommendations your physician may recommend, it is important that you continue to follow them to remain compliant. Insurance companies will not continue to pay your disability insurance claim unless you have ongoing proof of disability. If you miss too many appointments or do not provide regular updates, your insurance company might terminate your disability benefits.
Insurance companies know that symptoms can be improved over time with treatment, which is why they ask for such updates.
Consult With a Long-Term Disability Attorney
Filing a disability insurance claim can feel overwhelming, especially if you are struggling with cognitive impairments, depression, or anxiety. When you work with an experienced long-term disability attorney, they will handle all the details of your claim for you.
That means that the adjuster will no longer contact you directly. Instead, your lawyer will respond to all the insurer’s requests, make sure that you meet the necessary deadlines, and provide you with the information you need to make smart decisions.
Bryant Legal Group:
Helping Those with Tinnitus in Their Time of Need
At Bryant Legal Group, our team of experienced disability attorneys are committed to a value-based, practical approach to disability insurance claims. We have helped our clients receive millions in disability compensation and are here to help you understand your disability insurance claim.
If you have any questions about your tinnitus disability claim, contact our office today. To schedule your free consultation with a member of our team, call us at 312-561-3010 or complete our online form.
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