An acoustic neuroma is a rare and benign tumor that develops on the vestibulocochlear nerve. This nerve runs from the inner ear to the brain and is responsible for hearing and balance.
Because it’s a noncancerous growth it does not spread. However, it can cause many debilitating symptoms, and in rare cases can even be life-threatening.
Acoustic Neuroma Symptoms
Because these tumors are slow-growing, you might not notice symptoms right away. Most people will begin to experience hearing loss in one ear. While usually gradual, it can come on suddenly in certain cases. Other possible symptoms include:
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ear)
- Dizziness and balance issues
- Changes in taste
- Difficulty swallowing
- Facial numbness and weakness
In rare cases, acoustic neuromas can grow large enough that they press on the brainstem. This can lead to neurological disorders and can be fatal if left untreated.
Why Do They Happen?
In most cases, the cause of acoustic neuromas is unknown. They occur spontaneously in people with no known health conditions. Certain things like exposure to radiation or loud noises may be risk factors, but at this time research is still inconclusive.
The only known risk factor is an inherited disorder called neurofibromatosis type II (NF2), associated with a malfunctioning gene on chromosome 22. This genetic disorder often causes benign tumors to develop on the balance nerves on both sides of the head.
The lack of clear risk factors and the fact that these tumors appear in previously healthy individuals can make diagnosis difficult.
If you are experiencing hearing problems or feel unsteady during your walks through Camel’s Back Park, make an appointment with your medical provider. If they suspect an acoustic neuroma, they will likely refer you to an otolaryngologist who will review your symptoms and order hearing tests and imaging scans to confirm the diagnosis.
If your tumor is small and not causing any real physical difficulties your doctor may suggest monitoring the growth with no additional treatment. If your tumor grows or causes symptoms, surgery may be necessary.
Gamma Knife radiosurgery delivers radiation without the need for an incision, but results can take a long time. More invasive surgery may be required if your tumor is growing close to the brain or facial nerve.
If you have additional questions about acoustic neuromas or wish to schedule an appointment, contact Southwest Idaho ENT today.