What is acoustic neuroma?
Acoustic neuroma (also called vestibular schwannoma) is a tumor in the tissue that surrounds the nerve that connects the inner ear to the brain. It is usually a benign tumor but it can eventually lead to hearing loss because the tumor presses against the nearby auditory nerve. This nerve, which is also known as the eighth cranial or vestibulocochlear nerve, transmits information about sound and balance to the brain. Acoustic neuroma is a relatively rare condition, affecting two persons out of 100,000, and typically occurs in people between the ages of 30 and 60.(Source: ANAUSA).
Acoustic neuroma is caused by a defect that results in the irregular growth of Schwann cells, which are a type of supporting cell in the nervous system. In some people, acoustic neuromas may be caused by a genetic predisposition. In others, the cause is not known.
If your tumor is very small and does not cause symptoms, your doctor may choose to watch and wait, that is, to monitor the tumor carefully to ensure that it does not grow. Radiation and surgery are other treatment options. Treatment is necessary if there is a possibility that the tumor may grow and press against your brainstem, which could cause serious complications.
Although acoustic neuroma is benign and grows slowly, it can produce disturbing symptoms. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any serious symptoms, including hearing loss in one or both ears, dizziness, loss of muscle coordination, or numbness on both sides of the face.
What are the symptoms of acoustic neuroma?
Hearing loss is the primary symptom of acoustic neuroma. Since the ears affect our sense of balance, your coordination may also be impaired. Symptoms are usually mild at first and increase in intensity as the disease progresses.
Common symptoms of acoustic neuroma
- Dizziness and vertigo
- Impaired balance and coordination
- Loss of hearing in one ear
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
Less common symptoms of acoustic neuroma
- Facial weakness
- Loss of vision or changes in vision
- Numbness or pain experienced on one side of the face or in one ear
Although acoustic neuroma is benign and grows slowly, it can sometimes produce serious symptoms. Seek immediate medical care if you, or someone you are with, have any of these serious symptoms including:
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Hearing loss in one or both ears
- Loss of muscle coordination
- Numbness on both sides of the face
What causes acoustic neuroma?
Acoustic neuroma is caused by a defect that results in the irregular growth of Schwann cells, a type of supporting cell in the nervous system. In some cases, there appears to be a genetic predisposition to developing the condition, while in other cases, the cause is not known.
What are the risk factors for acoustic neuroma?
The only established risk factor for acoustic neuroma is having a parent with neurofibromatosis 2, a rare genetic disorder. Other risk factors for acoustic neuroma have been speculated, but they have not been proven.
How is acoustic neuroma treated?
Treatment for acoustic neuroma includes observation and monitoring, radiation, and surgery. The location and size of the tumor will determine the type of treatment. A tumor that is small and causes few symptoms might be watched carefully and monitored with periodic magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.
Tumors that are larger and causing symptoms are usually treated with surgery or radiation. Sometimes tumors grow very large and press against the auditory nerve, causing hearing loss and facial paralysis.
Treatments for acoustic neuroma include
- Conventional surgery to remove the tumor
- Observation for slow-growing tumors in selected patients
- Stereotactic radiosurgery (radiation therapy utilizing X-ray technology)
What are the potential complications of acoustic neuroma?
The prognosis for acoustic neuroma improves if the size of the tumor stays small and does not press against the nerve or brain. Acoustic neuromas grow very slowly, but they should be monitored periodically with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). You can help minimize your risk of serious complications by following the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you. Complications of acoustic neuroma include:
- Hearing loss
- Loss of nerve sensation in the face
- Paralysis of one side of the face