Is Tinnitus a Disability?

Hand on Window with Raindrops

Tinnitus is normally thought of as a symptom of disease, rather than a disease itself. However it is clear that any symptom that is sufficiently intrusive and consistent can rise to the level of a disability. In the case of tinnitus there can be a number of associated difficulties that can make it more problematic. Taken all together in some individuals this can lead to a significant level of disability.


A common complaint is difficulty focusing or concentrating, either when try to read, watch TV or even in direct conversation. This can lead to problems in learning or retaining new information and reduce enjoyment of leisure activities.


Unfortunately tinnitus can also be associated with heightened states of anxiety. This can lead to fears about triggering further changes in the tinnitus through for example exposure to relatively normal levels of environmental noise. Ultimately in some individuals there can be a mal-adaptation leading them to seek quieter more controlled environments thus avoiding social contact or even continuing to stay in employment.

There is also an association with reactive depression. Understandably low mood can come about from the sense of loss that comes from feeling one can no longer enjoy sitting quietly or engaging in favourite pastimes such as ready or watching TV. Depression itself can then lead to poorer performance at work, low energy levels as well as anhedonia (a reduced ability to enjoy pleasurable activities).


Sleep disturbance and tinnitus is very well documented. This can be a delay in accessing sleep, broken sleep or even reversed sleeping patterns (sleeping during the day). Poor sleep can lead to anxiety about work performance, ability to cope, low energy and depression.

The disability discrimination act 2010 says that you are disabled if:


"you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.


"Definitions are:

  • 'substantial’ is more than minor or trivial, e.g. it takes much longer than it usually would to complete a daily task like getting dressed ‘
  • 'long-term’ means 12 months or more, e.g. a breathing condition that develops as a result of a lung infection From this we can see that for some people tinnitus may well be described as a disability, certainly when it is untreated or poorly managed.

However successfully applying for financial support through either the governments Employment and Support Allowance scheme (ESA) or their Personal Independence Payment (PIP) can be very challenging. A full tinnitus assessment and report from one of Tinnitus Centre's team of experts may help to support you in developing a claim and also beginning your road to recovery.