An acoustic neuroma, or vestibular schwannoma, is a noncancerous tumor that forms around the nerves in the ear associated with hearing and balance, and thus affects someone’s ability to do both. These tumors can grow slowly over a long period of time.
In most cases, the tumor is found in only one ear. This is referred to as a unilateral acoustic neuroma. In patients with neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2), a rare genetic disorder, the tumors can affect the hearing nerves in both ears. Only about 5% of all patients with acoustic neuromas have NF2.
What Causes an Acoustic Neuroma?The reason behind the formation of acoustic neuromas is unclear. However, in rare instances, the tumor forms as a result of NF2.
What Symptoms are Associated With an Acoustic Neuroma?
Aside from hearing loss in one ear, which is experienced by 90% of individuals with this condition, other symptoms associated with acoustic neuromas include:
- Ringing sensation in the ear (tinnitus)
- Decreased or complete loss of balance
- Vertigo, or the illusion that you or your surroundings are moving
As the acoustic neuroma increases in size, patients can begin to exhibit more serious signs, such as:
- Blurred vision
- Loss of feeling in the face
- Difficulty swallowing
- Nausea and vomiting
How is an Acoustic Neuroma Diagnosed?
Symptoms of acoustic neuromas are similar to symptoms of other ear problems, which can make diagnosing the condition challenging. However, the presence of an acoustic neuroma can be detected by a healthcare provider through a physical examination as well as these tests:
- Audiogram, used to measure the patient’s hearing ability
- Electronystagmography, used to evaluate balance as well as the functioning of a patient’s eye and ear nerves
- Auditory brainstem response, used to measure how a patient’s hearing nerves respond to sound and evaluate his or her brainstem activity
- MRI and CT scans, used to find the tumor and evaluate its size
How is an Acoustic Neuroma Treated?
The experts at Tampa General Hospital can diagnose and treat patients with acoustic neuromas at any stage in the tumor’s formation. Treatment options include:
- Observation for small tumors that don’t seem to increase in size
- Radiosurgery that administers a single, high dose of radiation targeted directly at the tumor
- Microsurgery to remove as much of the acoustic neuroma as possible