Also known as vestibular schwannomas, acoustic neuromas are brain tumors that develop around the vestibulocochlear nerve. Leading from the brain to the inner ear, the eighth cranial nerve (vestibulocochlear nerve) is responsible for balance and hearing. Usually benign, these types of rare tumors only become a problem when they grow too large.
What are the Symptoms of Acoustic Neuromas?
Initially, symptoms may be non-existent or subtle enough not to be noticed. As an acoustic neuroma grows, it can cause pressure against cranial nerves or parts of the brain. Since your sense of balance and hearing share the same affected pathways to the brain, both can show indications of problems.
Common Acoustic Neuromas Symptoms Include, But Are Not Limited To:
- Tinnitus or ringing in the ears
- Problems with coordination, balance, and feeling dizzy
- Unilateral hearing loss (hearing loss in one ear)
- Headaches/ Migraines
- Mental confusion or brain fog
- Facial numbness or paralysis
- Difficulty swallowing
Who is at Risk?
Patient data compiled by the National Organization of Rare Diseases have shown that these kinds of tumors affect 1 out of 100,000 people, affecting more women than men between ages 30 to 65. In most cases, these tumors can develop suddenly without any previous indicator of their presence. In other cases, some genetic disorders such as neurofibromatosis 2 can cause tumor growth on living nerve cells.
Other well-known risk factors are wide-ranging, including exposure to radiation around the neck and head during childhood a personal or family history of benign tumors in the neck, especially near the parathyroid glands.
How is it Diagnosed?
Since most of these tumors develop suddenly, they can be hard to spot, making early diagnosis difficult. Early symptoms of dizziness, headaches, and tinnitus should prompt a referral to a specialist such as a neurotologist, an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor), or an audiologist. Starting with a standard hearing test and progressing to confirmation by CT scan or MRI can be a lengthy process. After an official diagnosis, you may be sent to see an audiovestibular specialist to help you learn coping methods to challenges that arise from an acoustic neuroma.
What are the Treatment Options Available?
The treatments available for confronting an acoustic neuroma can vary greatly depending on many factors, such as size, location, overall physical health, and age. If your condition isn’t life-threatening or severe, your doctor may take a wait-and-see approach, using frequent tests to determine the rate and spread of growth. In many cases, due to the slow growth of these tumors, you may never experience the actual need for surgery. However, if you are experiencing health problems or life diminishing effects, microsurgery or radiation therapy could help minimize the condition. Partial removal may be all that is recommended to help minimize nerve damage. If your tumor is life-threatening, more aggressive treatments are recommended, especially if the acoustic neuroma is near the brain stem or interfering with crucial bodily functions like breathing or causing a build-up of cerebrospinal fluid.
If you have been diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma, it’s usual to feel scared and upset. Fortunately, the majority of cases are not life-threatening. Making a long-term plan with your doctor and health care professional will help you figure out what solution is best for you and your case. Whether it’s surgery or learning coping skills, the most crucial thing to remember is to listen to your doctor’s advice and see them as recommended.