Acoustic Neuroma Symptoms, Causes & Treatment Options

An acoustic neuroma is a benign tumor of one of the nerves inside the skull, which causes hearing and balance problems. The condition can be treated by surgery or radiation.

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Contents

  1. Overview
  2. Symptoms
  3. Potential Causes
  4. Treatment, Prevention and Relief
  5. When to Seek Further Consultation
  6. References

What Is Acoustic Neuroma?

Summary

Acoustic Neuroma is a benign (noncancerous) tumor of some of the helper cells that sit next to a nerve called the vestibulocochlear nerve. The nerve carries auditory and balance information from your ears to your brain. This tumor compresses the vestibulocochlear nerve, which causes hearing loss, ringing in the ears, and can sometimes cause vertigo and imbalance. The condition has a strong genetic (inherited) component and there are no known lifestyle risk factors. The treatment is to receive surgery to remove the tumor or radiation therapy. There is no way to prevent getting the disease, but a high suspicion for acoustic neuroma in families that have the disease may allow catching the disease early.

Recommended care

Acoustic Neuroma Symptoms

Main symptoms

The main symptoms of acoustic neuroma are as follows:

  • Hearing loss in one ear
  • Ringing in one ear
  • Balance problems
  • Vertigo: feeling that the room is spinning around you

Other symptoms

If the neuroma grows substantially then the following symptoms can occur:

  • Numbness or weakness of the face muscles
  • Confusion
  • Depressed reflex to breathe: due to compression of the brainstem
  • Increased pressure in your brain
  • Death

Acoustic Neuroma Causes

In acoustic neuroma, a rare condition affecting men and women equally, the “helper” cells of the nervous system begin to grow and divide, forming a tumor. This tumor is slow-growing and benign, growing approximately 2 mm per year, on average. Since the tumor is benign, this means that it does not invade other structures and is not cancerous. However, the tumor does compress on the vestibulocochlear nerve, which carries your hearing and balance senses from your ears to your brain. This compression causes malfunctioning of the nerve, leading to hearing and balance problems.

90% of the time, these tumors develop on one side only due to a mutation (change) in a gene that was inherited from a parent or that developed on its own; however, 10% of the time, the tumors will develop on both sides as part of a condition called neurofibromatosis type II (NF2).

Acoustic Neuroma Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out if your symptoms point to acoustic neuroma

Treatment Options, Relief, and Prevention for Acoustic Neuroma

Treatment

The diagnosis of an acoustic neuroma depends upon imaging of the head. Typically, this will be a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. You may need repeat MRI scans to monitor the growth of the neuroma. Before MRI, you may undergo a number of other tests, including an exam of your ear by looking inside with a special scope, a routine hearing exam, and an auditory stimulation test. None of these tests hurt.

If the diagnosis of acoustic neuroma is made, the doctor will help you decide if anything should be done about it. He or she will evaluate your symptoms and may also evaluate the growth rate of the tumor. Some neuromas may never grow further once discovered and do not need treatment. The main risk of doing nothing is that the tumor could cause permanent hearing loss.

If it is decided that the neuroma needs treatment, the following methods are available:

  • Surgery: A neurosurgeon and ear nose and throat doctor remove the tumor from the ear and brain.
  • Radiation: Instead of removing the tumor, radiation can be applied to it, which can cause it to shrink (but not go away). Gamma knife, stereotactic radiotherapy, or proton beam therapy can be used.

Complications from surgery include:

  • Hearing loss
  • Paralysis of the facial muscles
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Balance problems
  • Headache
  • Meningitis
  • Stroke

Prevention

There is no way to prevent acoustic neuroma since it is a genetic disorder. However, if acoustic neuroma runs in your family, it would be wise to tell your doctor as this may help catch the disease early.

When to Seek Further Consultation for Acoustic Neuroma

You should seek the opinion of a doctor if you notice decreased hearing on one or both sides, with or without ringing in your ears that lasts more than a few months. You should also see a doctor if you are having balance problems or if the room is spinning (vertigo).