Many people’s familiarity with vertigo begins and ends with the 1958 Alfred Hitchcock classic of the same name. Because the film Vertigo featured a character whose condition was triggered by heights, they incorrectly assume vertigo is the fear of heights (which is acrophobia) or even the fear of falling (which is basophobia).
But vertigo is its own beast. Vertigo is the sensation of spinning when you’re actually standing still—or feeling as if the world around you is spinning. The episode may last minutes or even hours, and can come and go without warning. Aside from nausea and vomiting, vertigo can cause blurred vision and create a loss of balance, resulting in falls that can lead to injury or even death.
Causes of Vertigo
An inner ear condition is often the culprit when it comes to vertigo. Without getting too technical, the inner ear acts as a message-sending station, informing the brain of your head and body movements relative to gravity. The brain then tells the muscles how to react based on the direction it’s been given. So when something isn’t right in the inner ear, signals get crossed and the body and mind become off balance.
Some of the most common problems include:
- Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). This condition occurs when small calcium particles build up in the ear canal. Most BPPV conditions appear to be a symptom of aging.
- Meniere’s disease. This inner ear disorder causes fluid buildup and changes pressure within the ear. It can cause vertigo as well as tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and hearing loss.
- Vestibular neuritis or labyrinthitis. Generally caused by a viral infection, these conditions cause inflammation within the inner ear and the nerves that help you sense balance.
Finally, while less common, other conditions that can cause vertigo include head or neck injury, stroke or brain tumor, migraine headaches, and certain medications.
Disability for Vertigo
Vertigo is sometimes listed on a claimant's application for Social Security disability benefits, usually in connection to a vestibular balance disorder, Meniere's disease, or an unspecified inner ear problem.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes these in their Blue Book for disability evaluation as a condition that may qualify you for benefits (section 2.00 Special Senses And Speech - Adult). However, it may often depend if treatment has been sought and whether there is permanent hearing loss.
Some of the treatments that may need to be attempted before being approved for disability include:
- Canalith repositioning maneuvers. Used for BPPV, this involves a series of head and body movements to move calcium deposits out of the ear canal so they can be absorbed by the body.
Vestibular rehabilitation. A form of physical therapy that strengthens the vestibular system to send proper signals to the brain regarding head and body movements relative to gravity.
Diuretics. For those suffering from Meniere's disease, diuretics, or water pills, may be prescribed in an attempt to reduce pressure from fluid buildup.
- Surgeries. These would only be performed for more serious underlying problems, such as a tumor or injury to the brain or neck.
Understanding the SSA Vertigo Listing
To fulfill the SSA's disability listing for a vertigo-related impairment, you must have all of the following:
- Balance problems
- Partial hearing loss
You will also need to prove your balance disorder by offering evidence through testing and your doctor’s statements. So what if you suffer from vertigo but don’t meet each requirement? Vertigo alone may be able to influence the outcome of a disability claim if you work at heights or in areas near hazards, and a sudden spell could jeopardize your life or the lives of others. In these cases, and if you are older than 50, an administrative law judge will usually not expect you to be trained for another position and may approve your claim.
Even if you’re denied disability on your first attempt, that doesn’t mean “game over.” You may still be able to get approved using a residual functioning capacity (RFC) form which must be completed by a physician. RFCs require a lot of documentation and detail from your doctor, but if you’re struggling to work because of your vertigo, it may be worth your time and effort.
If all of this sounds complex and confusing, it’s no surprise. There is a lot of red tape when it comes to obtaining disability benefits. That’s why it helps to have a caring disability advocate at your side to walk you through every step of the process and make an appeal if necessary. If you or a loved one is suffering from vertigo and would like to speak to one of our experts, contact us today to discuss your situation.