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Hearing Loss and Social Security Disability

Hearing Loss - Condition and Symptoms

A person hears when sound waves inside the ear are converted into nerve signals that are recognized by the brain as sound. The eardrum and three bones in the middle ear amplify sound vibrations as they travel to the inner ear. Inside the inner ear is the cochlea, which contains fluid and to which are attached tiny hairs that translate the vibrations to electrical signals which in turn stimulate the brain to hear sound. When these hairs are damaged, the electrical signals are not transmitted effectively, and Hearing Loss may result. Hearing Loss is any degree of impairment of the ability to apprehend sound and can range from mild to severe. A person can lose hearing in one or both ears. Hearing Loss can be caused by aging, a build up of ear wax, damage to the inner ear, ear infections, a ruptured eardrum, illnesses that are accompanied by high fever, or abnormal bone growth. Additionally, extended periods of exposure to loud noise at work (construction or factory work) or during recreation (loud music, firearms discharge, or motorcycling) can also lead to Hearing Loss. Some medicines can also damage hearing.

There are three basic types of Hearing Loss: conductive hearing loss (sound is not conducted through the ear canal to the eardrum and the middle ear), sensorineural hearing loss (damage to the inner ear or to the nerve pathways from the inner ear to the brain), and mixed hearing loss (a person has both a conductive Hearing Loss and a sensorineural Hearing Loss).

Conductive Hearing Loss is often caused by factors such as fluid in the middle ear, poor function of the Eustachian tube, an ear infection, a perforated eardrum, benign tumors, ear wax, a foreign substance in the ear, or a malformation of a part of the ear. Conductive Hearing Loss can often be corrected, either medically or surgically.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss not only affects the ability to hear faint sounds, but also affects the ability to understand speech. It can be caused by factors such as illness, birth injury, drugs, genetics, exposure to loud noise, head trauma, aging, and tumors. Sensorineural Hearing Loss cannot be corrected; it is permanent.

The most common cause of Hearing Loss is aging, but Hearing Loss can occur at any age and under most conditions.

Severe Hearing Loss brings about huge changes in a person’s life. From the need to have people face you when they talk to the frustration of not understanding a conversation because too many individuals are talking simultaneously, hearing loss can make you face many hurdles in your efforts to interact with others.

It is not uncommon for people with severe Hearing Loss to have a difficult time getting or keeping a job. Although it is illegal to discriminate because of this disability, discrimination is common, especially if the person with Hearing Loss has a difficult time making himself/herself understood or understanding others. People with Hearing Loss often need accommodation (such as a telephone amplifier, a TTY system, or an interpreter) to do their jobs well. Reactions to such needs vary.

A physician will diagnose your Hearing Loss by conducting different tests. The simplest test is a screening test to determine how well you can hear words spoken at different volumes and how well you hear other sounds. Your doctor may then try a tuning fork test, which may show whether the parts of your ear that vibrate to sound are damaged. If your doctor believes you may have Hearing Loss, he or she will often refer you to an audiologist, who will conduct an audiometer test. You will listen to different sounds presented at different volumes while wearing earphones. The audiologist will ask you to indicate when you hear a sound and when you cease to hear a sound.

Symptoms of Hearing Loss usually include more than one of the following:

  • Speech and other sounds appear muffled.
  • It is difficult to understand speech, especially if there is also background noise (as at a restaurant or at a cocktail party where many people are talking).
  • You notice that you frequently have to ask others to repeat themselves, or speak more clearly.
  • You find that you need to turn up the volume of the television or radio.
  • You find that you tend to avoid conversations.
  • You find that you are avoiding some social settings.
  • You feel anxious, depressed, and isolated, or believe people do not want to talk to you.

Treatment for Hearing Loss depends, of course, on what causes the loss. Ear wax can be removed, hearing aids can be prescribed, or cochlear implants can be considered.

Filing for Social Security Disability with a Hearing Loss Diagnosis

Hearing Loss is categorized in the Social Security Administration (SSA) Blue Book under Section 2.00, Special Senses and Speech. Specifically, the listing to consult is Section 2.08, Hearing Impairments. In order to be considered for disability benefits because of Hearing Loss, your hearing cannot be restored by a hearing aid, and it must be manifested by:

  • Average hearing threshold sensitivity for air conduction of 90 decibels or greater, and for bone conduction to corresponding maximal levels, in the better ear, determined by the simple average of hearing threshold levels at 500, 1000, and 2000 Hz. OR
  • Speech discrimination scores of 40 percent or less in the better ear.

Your Hearing Loss Disability Case

If you are disabled because of Hearing Loss that is severe enough to prevent you from working, you may be entitled to Social Security Disability benefits. Working closely with medical professionals and a qualified Social Security Disability attorney or advocate to collect and present the appropriate documentation to support your disability claim in front of the administrative law judge (ALJ) can help ensure that your Hearing Loss disability case will have the highest possible chance of success. Your attorney will also be prepared to counter any remarks made by the medical expert used by the SSA.