Acoustic neuroma (also known as vestibular schwannoma) is a benign tumor found on the vestibular nerve, which leads to your brain from your inner ear. Since the vestibular nerve helps control your balance and hearing, the pressure caused by an acoustic neuroma can cause significant hearing loss, ringing (tinnitus), dizziness, and balance issues. Many who suffer from an acoustic neuroma find they can no longer work as a result of their symptoms.
Here’s what you need to know before filing your long term disability claim for an acoustic neuroma.
Is An Acoustic Neuroma A Disability?
An acoustic neuroma can cause an array of chronic and serious symptoms that can result in disability. The physical and cognitive symptoms of an acoustic neuroma can be extremely limiting and distressing, which may lead to secondary emotional issues, such as depression and anxiety. All of these symptoms—physical, cognitive, and secondary emotional issues—can be disabling if presenting with enough severity and frequency.
Your insurance company will want to know all of your symptoms so it can understand why they prevent you from working. When filing your long term disability claim, you will want to catalogue your specific symptoms and how they interfere with performing your job duties.
Disabling Physical Symptoms of an Acoustic Neuroma
Physical symptoms of an acoustic neuroma may vary in severity and fluctuate over time, with some days or weeks being much worse than others. Physical symptoms may include:
- Hearing loss (this may occur suddenly or gradually over time)
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Feeling of pressure or “fullness” in the ears
- Balance problems
- Facial pain, numbness, and weakness
- Facial paralysis
- Difficulty sleeping
Disabling Cognitive Symptoms of an Acoustic Neuroma
Along with physical symptoms, an acoustic neuroma can lead to cognitive impairment as well. Cognitive problems arising from an acoustic neuroma may include:
- Impaired concentration
- Inability to follow conversations
- Slowed processing time with speech and hearing
- Poor memory
Disabling Secondary Emotional Symptoms of an Acoustic Neuroma
Contending with the physical and cognitive impairments and limitations of an acoustic neuroma can be extremely distressing. It is possible that due to your acoustic neuroma, you will suffer from secondary emotional issues.
Secondary emotional symptoms that may develop due to an acoustic neuroma may include:
- Social anxiety and social isolation
- Panic disorders
- Decreased mental acuity
- Decreased tolerance for stress
It is important to document all of your symptoms with your treating doctors.
How Do I Prove My Acoustic Neuroma As A Disability?
While the disabling nature of your acoustic neuroma may seem obvious to you, your insurance company will require evidence of your diagnosis, symptoms, and how your ability to work is impaired in order to approve your disability benefits.
What kind of evidence does your insurance company expect for your acoustic neuroma claim? The most important will be objective medical evidence from your treating doctor(s).
Proof of Your Acoustic Neuroma Diagnosis
Your insurance company will require objective proof of diagnosis for any disability. This requirement can be challenging because acoustic neuromas can be difficult to diagnose. Oftentimes people with acoustic neuromas experience increasingly worsening symptoms before receiving a solid diagnosis. A battery of testing may be necessary before your acoustic neuroma is properly diagnosed.
Your insurance company will conduct a broad review of your medical records to assess your diagnosis. They will specifically look for the following:
- Clinical signs, including hearing loss, tinnitus, unsteadiness, facial numbness, and (rarely) facial weakness or decreased muscle movement.
- Diagnostic testing, including an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) brain scan, hearing tests (audiometry), and vestibular testing. If you don’t have a positive MRI, the insurer will be more likely to question your diagnosis.
Evidence of Appropriate Treatment
Almost every long term disability insurance policy will require proof of appropriate and ongoing treatment for your condition in order to approve your disability claim. This means your insurance company wants to see that you are complying with your doctor’s recommendations and doing everything in your power to alleviate your symptoms.
Appropriate treatment for an acoustic neuroma depends on the size of your tumor, the rate of growth, and the severity of your symptoms. Generally, treatment options include monitoring, radiation therapy, or surgery. Treatment options may also include therapies to help manage symptoms.
- Monitoring. Your doctor may recommend monitoring if your acoustic neuroma is small or isn’t growing rapidly with non-severe symptoms. Your doctor may also recommend monitoring if you can’t obtain medical clearance for more invasive treatments, such as radiation therapy or surgery.
- Radiation Therapy. There are several forms of radiation therapy that your doctor may recommend. These include stereotactic radiosurgery, stereotactic radiotherapy, or proton beam therapy.
- Surgery. You may require surgery to remove the acoustic neuroma. The procedure involves removing the tumor through the inner ear or a through your skull. As with any surgery, there are significant risks for complications. Symptoms may worsen if nerves are damaged during the procedure. Other complications include hearing loss, facial numbness/weakness, balance issues, chronic headache, stroke, meningitis (infection of the cerebrospinal fluid), and cerebrospinal fluid leakage.
- Therapies. Treatment may also include therapies to help manage or cope with symptoms. These treatments may include vestibular therapy to improve balance, as well as emotional therapy to help cope and adapt. Cochlear implants or hearing aids may also be used to address hearing loss. Cognitive behavioral therapy may be appropriate to help improve cognitive functioning.
Make sure to follow the recommendations of your doctors for treatment. The side effects of your treatment may result in worsening or new disabling symptoms – it is important for these to be reported to your treating doctors and documented in your medical records as well.
Proof of Inability to Work Due to an Acoustic Neuroma
Without question, the symptoms of an acoustic neuroma can be extremely disabling. However, you should never assume that the insurance company will understand how your symptoms impact your job. To increase your chances of approval, you must explain why each of your symptoms prevents you from performing your job duties.
For example, hearing loss may make it very hard to understand people during conversations or while on the phone. Severe hearing loss may even prevent you from effectively communicating with others at work.
Vestibular and balance issues may make it difficult to commute and safely navigate your work environment. Severe vestibular and balance issues may even impair your ability to perform a desk job – simple tasks like bending to get a file out of desk drawer or getting up from your chair may be unsafe or exacerbate your symptoms. At times, you may not even be able to lift your head without exacerbating your symptoms further.
Many people also find it difficult to concentrate and focus at work due to fatigue, tinnitus, and chronic headaches. You may even find that you are performing work tasks much slower. This can be particularly troublesome if your job requires rapid responses or higher-level cognitive functioning.
Explain how your individual symptoms prevent you from performing your job duties by preparing a written narrative for the insurance company. Make sure that your narrative addresses all of your symptoms by listing them separately first.
An acoustic neuroma is a serious medical condition that may result in disability. To file a successful long term disability claim, you must support your claim with sufficient medical evidence and proof of appropriate treatment. Knowing how to substantiate your claim will significantly increase your chances of approval.
An experienced long term disability attorney will know how best to substantiate your claim with evidence of not only your acoustic neuroma diagnosis and symptoms, but the physical, cognitive, and emotional impairments your condition causes, and how they specifically interfere with your job duties.
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communicative Disorder (NIDCD)